La Sainte Courtisane, or, The Woman Covered with Jewels

La Sainte Courtisane, or, the Woman Covered with Jewels (1893)

First published in book form in Miscellanies, London, Methuen & Co., 1908, pp. 229-239. (


“The week after next we would like to go down, and I look forward immensely to being at Babbacombe, as I want to write two plays [“A Florentine Tragedy“, “La Sainte Courtisane“], one in blank verse, and I know the peace and beauty of your home will set me in tune, so that I can hear things that the ear cannot hear, and see invisible things.“ (letter to Lady Mount Temple, from the Royal Bath Hotel, Bournemouth, ?November 1892, Complete Letters, p. 538)

“I am lazy and languid, doing no work. I need stirring up.“ (letter to Robert Ross, Babbacombe Cliff, circa December 1892, ibid., p. 542)

“I am rather unhappy as I can’t write – I don’t know why. Things are all wrong.“ (letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, Babbacombe Cliff, ?February 1893, ibid., 545)

“Oscar was determined to work hard, and indeed during his stay there, which lasted into March [1893], he finished A Woman of No Importance and most of A Florentine Tragedy, a play in blank-verse. He also started to put together another play, to be called La Sainte Courtisane. (Amor Mrs Oscar Wilde, p. 116)

“In February ’93, just before starting rehearsals at the Haymarket [A Woman of No Importance, opened on 19 April 1893], Wilde was again staying in Lady Mount Temple’s house in Babbacombe, and wondering whether to write another play in his Salomé vein which he had already entitled La Sainte Courtisane.“ (Pearson Oscar Wilde, p. 211)

[March/April 1893] “I remember Oscar Wilde telling us the plots of three short plays he had in his mind –  Salomé, The Florentine Tragedy and La Sainte Courtisane, almost writing them on the tablecloth as he glowed over his themes.“ (Max Beerbohm, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, p. 80)

“The moment, in the early December of the year to which I have been alluding [1893], I had succeeded in inducing your mother to send you out of England, I collected again the torn and ravelled web of my imagination, got my life back into my own hands, and not merely finished the three remaining acts of An Ideal Husband, but conceived and had almost completed two other plays of a completely different type, the Florentine Tragedy and La Sainte Courtisane, when suddenly, unbidden, unwelcome, and under circumstances fatal to my happiness you returned. The two works left then imperfect I was unable to take up again. The mood that created them I could never recover.“ (letter [De Profundis] to Lord Alfred Douglas, January – March, 1897, Reading Prison, Complete Letters, pp. 686-7)

“And while The Importance of Being Earnest was filling the St. James’s Theatre, he was typing to finish La Sainte Courtisane, and had submitted to a manager the latter part of A Florentine Tragedy, which he had never been able to begin.“ (Ransome, p. 153)

“There is some evidence that La Sainte Courtisane was completed, but the MS was apparently lost and only fragments survived.“ (Shewan, “Oscar Wilde and A Wife’s Tragedy“, p. 83)

“Ask Bobby to go to Tite Street and get a type-written manuscript, part of my blank-verse tragedy [A Florentine Tragedy], also a black book containing La Sainte Courtisane in bedroom.“ (letter to More Adey and Robert Ross, 9 April 1895, Complete Letters, p. 642)

“In April, 1895, Mr. Wilde requested me to go to his house and take possession of all his unpublished manuscripts. He had been declared a bankrupt, and I reached the house just before the bailiffs entered. Of course, the author’s letters and manuscripts would have been exempt from seizure, but I found that the ‘Florentine Tragedy’ – together with the manuscripts of two other unpublished plays [‘The Duchess of Padua’, ‘La Sainte Courtisane’] and the enlarged version of ‘The Portrait of Mr. W. H.’ upon which I knew he was engaged – had mysteriously disappeared. Someone had been there before me.
The thief was never discovered, nor have we even seen the ‘Florentine Tragedy,’ the ‘Mr. W. H.’ story, or one of the other plays – ‘The Duchess of Padua’ – since that time. Curiously enough, the manuscript of the third play [‘La Sainte Courtisane’], a tragedy somewhat on the lines of ‘Salome,’ was discovered by a friend of Mr. Wilde’s in a second-hand bookshop in London in 1897. It was sent to the author in Paris, and was not heard of again. After his death in 1900 it could not be found. With regard to ‘The Duchess of Padua,’ the loss was not absolute, for this play, a five act tragedy, had previously been performed in America, and I possessed the ’prompt’ copy. [see ‘The Duchess of Padua’, no. 26].“ (“Play’s Strange History“, interview with Robert Ross, in The Tribune, London, 4 June 1906, see also Ingleby, Oscar Wilde, pp. 215-6)

“At the time of Wilde’s trial the nearly completed MS. of La Sainte Courtisane was entrusted to Mrs Leverson, the well-known novelist, who in 1897 [?1898, see Complete Letters, p. 642n] went to Paris to restore it to the author. Wilde immediately left the only copy in a cab. A few days later he laughingly informed me of the loss, and added that a cab was a very proper place for it. … All my attempts to recover the lost work failed. The passages here reprinted are from some odd leaves of a first draft.“ (Robert Ross, “Preface“, 1910, p. xv)

“The Sphinx has (1) The Duchess of Padua. (2) The manuscript of La Sainte Courtisane. (3) A bundle of A. D. letters. Would you give her from me my kind regards and most affectionate wishes and ask her to let Robbie have them, as I want them all three as soon as I am released.“ (letter to More Adey, 7 April 1897, Complete Letters, p. 797)

“A small quarto book of ruled paper, bound up in black shining cloth, contains the only ‘true original copy’ of the late Oscar Wilde’s barely known play, named ‘The Woman Covered With Jewels,’ written in prose, and entirely in his small, neat holograph. Like his wonderful Flaubertian study, ‘Salomé,’ it is a tragedy in one act. Its theme is the elemental one of passion and temptation in the wilderness. Other themes stated and reiterated are those of self-renunciation, devotion, beauty, vanity, and greed.
This play was written about seven years ago and, in all probability, was only read by about seven persons. It was presented by its author to a charming and cultivated Mayfair lady, well known in London society. Through her kindness a few London litterateurs were enabled to read it. This manuscript book is now lost. We have not succeeded in tracing a second copy anywhere, so that, probably, its only record may be in this article.
… While he was living for a short period, at Posilippo rumours reached London of works he was engaged upon. One heard of ‘Pharao,’ a poem dealing with the Egyptian king and the plagues that descended upon him. A modern comedy of manners was also spoken of as being on the stocks and a translation. …
There is little doubt that the lost tragedy by Wilde was intended originally – like ‘Salomé – for Sarah Bernhardt. …“ (G. F. Monkshood, “Oscar Wilde’s Only Unpublished Play: ‘The Woman Covered With Jewels.’“, Reynold’s Newspaper, 23 August 1903, p. 2)

La Sainte Courtisane survives in a much more fragmentary form than A Florentine Tragedy; moreover the version of it published by Ross in his 1908 Collected Edition (and subsequently reprinted in the Collins Complete Works) was considerably ‘tidied up’ by its first editor. Wilde’s manuscript has no names of characters or stage directions; there are just heavily corrected blocks of speech.“ (Guy and Small, Studying Oscar Wilde, p. 159) 



Present Location



Catalogue Entries / Notes

1. Autograph Notebook

32 pages, including 3 pages of fragmentary passages of An Ideal Husband

[ca. 1894?]

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

W6721M3  L111

no digital copy

Wilde, Oscar
La sainte courtisane, or The lady covered with jewels.
Bound. MS. 32 p.; English; Wilde W6721M3 L111.
Reel: 24, Item No. 22“

La sainte courtisane, or the lady covered with jewels. 1894
MS 32 p. Bound in black leather. Manuscript notebook containing the original MS of La sainte courtisane, or The Lady Covered with Jewels, identical with the printed version which first appeared in the 1908 edition of collected works; also, fragmentary passages from An Ideal Husband.“

(not in Finzi)

“Manuscript notebook containing La sainte courtisane and three pages with fragmentary passages intended for An Ideal Husband
(Riquelme,  p. 309)

“AMS in bound lined notebook, in 32 leaves in pencil, with deletions and corrections. At the end of the notebook there are fragments of speeches from An Ideal Husband. The opening stage directions of the draft of La Sainte courtisane correspond to Ross’s edition (vol. XIV), but the remaining text has no names of characters, simply blocks of speech, and no stage directions whatsoever. The Clark catalogue claims that it is the draft of La Sainte courtisane, as printed in 1908 edition; but the MS text is different in places from that printed by Ross. … 

Ross also re-orders material to make greater sense of it. …“
Oscar Wilde Revalued, pp. 146-7)

A Catalogue of a Collection of Rare English Black-Letter Books, the Property of a Gentleman; Valuable Books from the Library of the late Rt. Hon. C. G. Milnes Gaskell, with Other Properties, Hodgson & Co, London, 26-27 June 1924, lot 319

“Original Manuscript of the Rough Draft for a Play, ‘The Woman Covered with Jewels,’ written in pencil on about 25 pp. of a 4to note-book, with fragments of dialogue from ’The [sic] Ideal Husband’ at the other end, sm. 4to, roan 

The above Manuscript – being the first ideas of dialogue, in places abrupt and incomplete, and in others extending to long passages – is of special interest as being the only version of this play known to exist, the MS. of the completed version (which bore the above title) having been lost. Hence it has not been printed or published in any form. It may be added that the play is of a mythological or romantic character, the interest centred in the person of Myrrhina, ‘the woman covered with jewels,’ and a hermit, Honorius.

“The sale of a collection of rare English black letter books and other valuable items from the library of the late Rt. Hon. C. G. Milnes Gaskell, which included original manuscripts of Oscar Wilde and the unpublished rough draft of a play called ‘The Woman Covered with Jewels,’ was another notable event of the late season.

Besides the unpublished Wilde manuscript [‘The Woman Covered with Jewels‘] in the sale at Hodgson’s there are the holograph manuscripts of the last part of Wilde’s essay ‘The Rise of Historical Criticism’; the greater part of the manuscript of ‘The Duchess of Padua’; the original first draft of ‘Vera; or, The Nihilists’; the first draft of ‘A Woman of No Importance’ and the second draft, with the first  inception of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ which Wilde commenced under the title of ‘The Guardian’; an early sketch of ‘An Ideal Husband’ and the typescript of the first act, together with a typed revision. … It is notable that in the first copy the title is deleted and ‘The foolish Journalist’ substituted, and afterwards struck out. In the revised copy the title is omitted altogether.“ “ 
The Bookman, New York, vol. LIX, August 1924, [p. 782])

[Gaskell was probably not the owner of Wilde’s manuscripts, judging by the catalogue entry: “Other Properties“

“The rough draft of a play entitled ‘The Woman Covered with Jewels,’ written in pencil on about 25 pp. of 4to. note-book, brought £35. This Wilde MS. is of special interest, as being the only version of the play known to exist, the MS.of the completed version having been lost, while it has never been printed or published in any form.“
The Bookman’s Journal and Print Collector, vol. X, August 1924, p. 182)

?Vyvyan Holland

?Christopher Millard / Stuart Mason

Robert Ross

Ada Leverson

2. Autograph Fragment

5 pages

[?August-September 1894]

Arents Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

Arents S 1534 no. 1

digital copy:

[5 leaves of autograph manuscript of The Importance of Being Earnest, notebook three, Arents S 1534 no. 1 [see TIOBE, no. 4], which contain holograph drafts of passages from A Florentine Tragedy and La Sainte Courtisane]

“Unconnected with the present manuscript of Lady Lancing  [see TIOBE, no. 4, Act II], two fragments appear at the end of the notebook, which has been turned over so as to make the back end the front – a common habit of Wilde’s when he feels an urgent need to follow a sudden inspiration and has no separate blank notebook at hand. The two fragments are of brief speech sequences identifiable as relating to two plays, A Florentine Tragedy and La Sainte Courtisane. The fortunate presence of these fragments in a precisely datable notebook allows us to fix Wilde’s interest in writing these two other plays as occurring in a period that evidently includes August and September of 1894. It is the second instance of the appearance of evidence indicating that, while Wilde was ostensibly entirely engrossed in writing the play that became The Importance of Being Earnest, he was simultaneously pursuing three other plays: A Florentine Tragedy, La Sainte Courtisane, and an untitled play whose scenario Wilde lays out in full in a letter to George Alexander written sometime in August of that same year. Wilde never completed A Florentine Tragedy or La Sainte Courtisane, nor did he ever write the play whose scenario he sent to Alexander, but he later sold the scenario to Frank Harris (and to several other persons as well); Harris hoped to collaborate with Wilde on it, but eventually wrote entirely by himself a successful play entitled Mr and Mrs Daventry, based on the Wilde scenario.“
Complete Works, vol. IX, pp. 169-170n)

3. Typewritten Manuscript (with Autograph Manuscript Corrections)


Bodleian Library, Oxford

MS 7018/8

no digital copy

presented by Merlin Holland, 14 August 1990

La Sainte Courtisane (or ‘The Woman Covered with Jewels’), ‘A dramatic fragment’ with ‘letter’ to the [unknown] actors and ‘letter’ to the director at beginning, typescript script with manuscript corrections and 2 pages of notes [not clear by whom] regarding costumes, etc. n.d. [published 1908 by Robert Ross].“
Papers of Robert Ross and Vyvyan Holland relating to the Literary Estate of Oscar Wilde, Bodleian Library)

Merlin Holland

Vyvyan Holland

Robert Ross

4. Autograph Manuscript

29 pages




Kim Herzinger, book dealer, Greenwich Village

[Gardner, Anthony, “The Oscar Wilde Forgeries“, Sunday Times Magazine, [8 July] 2007, see]

“… the three leather-bound volumes being touted in that last week of April [2007] by the owner of a small shop in Greenwich Village. 

Kim Herzinger explained that the volumes contained six Oscar Wilde manuscripts recently inherited by one of his clients. Here in the Irish genius’s hand were the opening of A Woman of No Importance; a fragment of another play, never published or produced  [‘La Sainte Courtisane’]; a letter; a poem; the essay The Tomb of Keats. Most exciting of all, there was the manuscript of one of Wilde’s best-love stories, The Happy Prince, which even if sold separately could be expected to fetch £200,000 or more – provided it was genuine.

Kim Herzinger acknowledges that there are difficulties with the New York manuscripts, among them a lack of provenance: ‘They were bought by a relative of the owner back in 1935, who was a very, very good book collector but not a Wilde expert, and we don’t know where he bought them or who from.“
(Gardner, see

Books, Autographs, Manuscripts from the Libraries of Mrs. Frederick A. DePeyster, New York City, James M. Kennedy, Garden City, L. I., and Others, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, Feb. 9, 1932, lot 277

“Autograph Manuscript, 29 pp., folio. ‘La Sainte Courtisane, or, The Woman Covered with Jewels.’ Bound in red crushed levant morocco, gilt tooled, by Zaehnsdorf. 

La Sainte Courtisane’, a fragment, was first published in the ‘Miscellanies’ of 1908. Laid in is Wilde’s visiting card, with the following pencilled note on the back in Wilde’s hand: ‘Dear friend: I will be at the Grand for the dinner, but late. If I am too late, go on with the dinner after the manner of our party with Harris, Yours O. W. 7.20 p.m.’“

“Several Oscar Wilde items will be offered. The autograph manuscripts include ‘La Sainte Courtisans [sic],’ a fragment; ‘The Happy Prince’ inscribed to Leonard Smithers, written In purple ink on lavender paper, with the first two pages of the autograph manuscript of ‘A Woman of No Importance’ bound in; ‘A Florentine Tragedy’ and ’The Tomb of Keats,’ with an autograph letter signed by Wilde and a poetical manscript [sic] bound in. In this group also Is an autograph manuscript of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ apparently the first draft of Wilde’s famous comedy, divided into two acts. It is believed that Wilde later expanded the latter part, making it a four-act play.“
The New York Times, Feb. 7, 1932, p. 71)

“Six Oscar Wilde items were withdrawn yesterday afternoon from an auction sale of rare books, autographs and manuscripts at the American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, Inc. The galleries declined to reveal the name of the owner but announced that he had withdrawn them, because of ‘a question of title.’

The catalogue of the sale listed the items as important Wilde manuscripts. One was described as ‘the autograph manuscript of one of Wilde’s masterpieces, “The Happy Prince“.’ Another was called *the autograph manuscript of ’A Florentine Tragedy.’ Others were catalogued as the autograph manuscript of ‘La Sainte Courtisane,’ autograph manuscript of ‘The Tomb of Keats,’ autograph manuscript of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and a copy of ’SaIomé’ with two autograph letters by Wilde.“
The New York Times, Feb. 10, 1932, p. 21)

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