A Wife’s Tragedy

A Wife’s Tragedy. An unpublished play. 1890


No mention of mss. in Mason’s Bibliography of Oscar Wilde.

No mention in Complete Letters.

The draft, partly in ink, partly in pencil, was written in a loose cursive style that appears in first or hasty drafts more or less throughout Wilde’s career. The only conclusion to be drawn from the handwriting is that A Wife’s Tragedy was probably not written down at a very early date, e.g. 1880. The paper is ordinary foolscap, impossible to date. One leaf of small quarto correspondence paper, bearing (and duplicating) the title, is watermarked ‘Silver Linen’. I have not succeeded in dating this, but a mere date could tell us nothing definite.The paper may have been new or old when Wilde wrote on it and was not necessarily part of the draft on foolscap – probably was not. …
… But first, one obvious possibility – that the sketch dates from Wilde’s post-prison years – can be reasonably dismissed. Though often pressed for money at that period, Wilde would surely have felt too remote from his society audiences to find such a subject workable. … Setting aside a post-prison date, we shall find that a combination of internal evidence and biographical fact suggests two possible dates: 1881-83 and 1887-88.“ (Shewan, “Oscar Wilde and A Wife’s Tragedy“, p. 88)

“Clearly, neither the biographical nor the literary evidence can be regarded as conclusive. I would argue, however, that there is a reasonably strong case for placing A Wife’s Tragedy between 1887 and 1889, while the evidence for some other date is distinctly weaker.
Documentary evidence is at present weaker still. …“ (ibid., p. 94)

“Before writing A Good Woman, or Lady Windermere’s Fan as it would be re-titled, Oscar had begun a play titled A Wife’s Tragedy.“ (Moyle, p. 201)

“While it is probably true that if the work had been finished it would have been more polished and studded with epigrams, the bare outline of it which emerges from this fragment is a society melodrama.“ (Shewan, “A Wife’s Tragedy – An Unpublished Sketch“, p. 77)

“.. the MS appears to include ideas and sketches from various different scenarios (or from various sittings, at least, as the combination of ink and pencil suggests).“ (ibid., p. 79)

“Since there is a good deal of introductory and expository material among the unallocated pages, the MS presumably gives us at least part of Act One, from which two plot possibilities may be inferred.“ (ibid.)

“Not surprisingly, Wilde gives little indication of a time-scheme, and those indications that exist tend to be contradictory.“ (ibid., p. 80)



Present Location



Catalogue Entries / Notes

1. Autograph Manuscript

29 leaves / 49 pages


William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
University of California, Los Angeles, CA

W6721M2 W653

no digital copy


Wilde, Oscar.
A wife’s tragedy. [An unfinished play].
MS. 29 leaves; Foliated 14 May 1997 by Risa Ruiz; English; Wilde W6721M2 W653.
Reel: 23, Item No. 13

A wife’s tragedy. An unfinished play. 1890
MS. 49 p. Original manuscript draft of an unfinished play, with numerous corrections, erasures, and thumb-nail sketches in the author’s hand. About one-third in ink, and two-thirds in pencil. First leaf is half size.“

“A wife’s tragedy. [An unfinished play].
MS. 29 p. 12
1/2x7-3/4 in.;
Original manuscript draft of an unpublished play, with numerous corrections, erasures, and thumb-nail sketches in the author’s hand. About one third in ink, and two-thirds in pencil. First leaf is half size.
Dulau 1.“
Finzi 2500)

facsimile of autograph page, see Dulau, [p. 2]

“AMS on 49 leaves, one-third in ink and two-thirds in pencil, on lined paper, often on verso. Numerous emendations and deletions; numerous jottings and unfinished lines at end.“
Oscar Wilde Revalued, p. 153)

“The MS of Oscar Wilde’s A Wife’s Tragedy belonging to the Clark Library comprises 28 unbound foolscap sheets, including one partial sheet, all of which are feint ruled except for one (20 A) which is plain. There is an additional small quarto sheet of plain correspondence paper with the watermark ‘Silver Linen’. Wilde provides no continuous pagination (and litte pagination of any kind), so I have numbered the sheets according to what I consider their most likely and satisfactory continuity, denoting the two sides of each sheet by A and B. …

Sheets 1-12 are written in ink, sheets 13–26 in pencil. Two sheets that do not fit easily into the sequence are placed at the end: 27, the partial sheet (ink), and 28 (pencil). The whole MS is in Wilde’s hand, often in a hasty cursive style, sprinkled with scrawls and contractions. 

On 27 B there are brief indications of the cast, and on 12 A Wilde notes a possible order for the conversations in Act Two. There is no final list of characters. There are no speech prefixes at all, next to no stage directions, no firm indications of internal continuity or arrangement of scenes. A few Act headings appear.“
(Shewan, “
A Wife’s Tragedy – An Unpublished Sketch“, p. [75])

“It is undated. Some folios are written only on one side; others have writing on the verso as well. Of those that have writing on both sides, the text on what appears to be a verso sometimes logically precedes that on the previous recto. The handwriting is unquestionably Oscar Wilde’s; the doubtful legibility suggests first or very early draft. In some cases revision has occurred. Some of the writing is in ink, some in pencil, occasionally interspersed with sketches and doodlings. The hand is difficult to decipher; the author writes hurriedly and somewhat laconically, even elliptically. Presumably he plans to return and flesh out his first thoughts in a later, fuller draft. And yet a student of the manuscripts of Wilde’s plays finds that it is not so much the obscure handwriting as the chaotic condition of the folios and the overall fragmentary nature of the manuscript that offers the greater challenge.


Virtually all of the writing represents first or second thoughts and is characterized by frequent deletions and equally frequent insertion or writing over. There are no speech headings, nor do any of the scenes or sequences last for the staged  equivalent of more than three or five minutes. … The use of ink in some cases and pencil in others speak of a desultory process of composition, often interrupted by other matters.“
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 1079)

A Collection of Original Manuscripts, Letters and Books of Oscar Wilde, including his letters written to Robert Ross from Reading Gaol and Unpublished Letters, Poems & Plays formerly in the Possession of Robert Ross, C. S. Millard (Stuart Mason) and the Younger Son of Oscar Wilde, Dulau & Company, London, n. d. [1928], item 1

A considerable portion of the ORIGINAL MS. of an unfinished and entirely unpublished play, in Wilde’s hand throughout, on 49 foolscap pages, about one-third in ink and two-thirds in pencil, entitled ‘a woman’s [sic] tragedy. £350/-/-

… This manuscript, coming as it does from a source impossible of suspicion, is of the greatest possible importance, as it was generally unknown that such a play existed. While it is in the form of only a rough draft, it is possible briefly to outline the plot, from which it will appear that the form of the play bears only the faintest resemblance to Wilde’s usual plots. While it is probably true that if the work had been finished it would have been more polished and studded with epigrams, the bare outline of it which emerges from this fragment is a society melo- drama. … There is a reckless change of names throughout … The manuscript begins at Act II, when Mr. and Mrs. Lovel are living in Venice and expecting a visit from Lord Mertoun. …

In Act III, which is in pencil, the melodramatic plot is introduced. …

In the margins of the manuscript are numerous thumbnail sketches of heads, buildings, grotesques, etc. Most of the manuscript is very hastily scribbled down, probably in the first flights of inspiration, and occasionally it is difficult to decipher when Wilde drops into a sort of shorthand of his own.“

[with a reproduction of one autograph manuscript page, p. [2]]

Vyvyan Holland

Christopher Millard / Stuart Mason

Robert Ross

    This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.