The Importance of Being Earnest. First Edition (1899)
Book ID: 64827
The Importance of Being Earnest. A Trivial Comedy for Serious People by the Author of Lady Windermere’s Fan. London: Leonard Smithers, 1899. First Edition, Limited Issue. Pp 151. Publisher’s lavender cloth boards, floral devices in gilt to upper & lower covers by Charles Ricketts. Bookplate to front pastedown, a fine bright copy. Housed in collector’s solander box. [Mason 382].
First edition of Wilde’s comic masterpiece, published in an edition of one thousand numbered copies. As is commonly found with most of the limited issues this copy is unnumbered.
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ premiered on St Valentine’s Day 1895 at the St James’s Theatre, London. It was Oscar Wilde’s fourth West End hit in only three years. His earlier play, ‘An Ideal Husband’ had opened only a month before and was still playing to packed houses at the Haymarket Theatre a few streets away. On 5th April 1895, Wilde was arrested on a charge of gross indecency. The box office collapsed immediately and the play closed on 8th May, having run for 83 performances.
Wilde impressed on Smithers the necessity on keeping the format of the book & binding uniform with that of the two comedies previously published. In addition to this limited issue two special editions were also printed. One of 100 numbered copies, Signed by Wilde and a small number of copies printed on Japanese vellum, issued for presentation only. Referencing this edition Wilde wrote to a friend:
“I have nothing to offer you but one of my books, that absurd comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, but I send it to you, in the hopes it may live on one of your bookshelves and be allowed to look at you from time to time. Its dress is pretty: it wears Japanese vellum, and belongs to a limited family of nine: it is not on speaking terms with the popular edition: it refuses to recognise the poor relations whose value is only seven and sixpence.” (The Complete Letters of Oscar Wilde (2000), p.1144).