Although many of Wilde’s manuscripts are now in public collections and libraries, and thus accessible to researchers, every search still involves a great deal of work. At present, Wilde scholars and collectors have no systematic and comprehensive census of Wilde’s manuscripts and their provenances, much less one available in a complete and well-organized form.
lan Small compiled a partial list of what was catalogued at that time in the various institutions and libraries in the chapter “Manuscripts” in his 1993 Oscar Wilde Revalued. Similarly, Karl Beckson briefly listed the known manuscripts of Wilde’s works in his 1998 Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia. Other manuscripts by Wilde have surfaced since then, however. Furthermore, Internet search technology has significantly improved. The move towards online catalogues, for example, has facilitated research into the sale and current location of manuscripts immensely.
And, of course, Wilde studies too have made great progress in the meantime. The critical Oxford English Texts Edition ofThe Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, although not yet complete, has recalibrated Wilde research and placed it on much broader footing since the publication of its first volume in 2000. As of August 2021, 11 volumes have appeared. Their editors have attempted to draw on all of the available manuscripts in their editions of the respective works and in the critical discussion. Provenances, however, are only rarely cited in the Complete Works.
Nor are the Complete Works affordable to all interested parties – not to most students and unaffiliated Wildeans, for example. The individual volumes cost from £170 to £270, and are not always available even in university libraries.
The object of the present work is therefore to make Wilde’s manuscripts and their provenances available not only to the scholarly community, but also to a broader public – including librarians, booksellers and auctioneers, known and unknown collectors, and last but not least the numerous people who are interested in Oscar Wilde and his work in general.
Because of the great number of manuscripts of Wilde’s works, I have initially restricted the project to a manageable number of those works. Those included in the project are:
- Vera; or, The Nihilists
- The Duchess of Padua
- The Picture of Dorian Gray
- Lady Windermere’s Fan
- A Woman of No Importance
- An Ideal Husband
- The Importance of Being Earnest
- The Soul of Man under Socialism
- The Sphinx
- A Florentine Tragedy
- La Sainte Courtisane
- “A Wife’s Tragedy”
A spreadsheet is attached on each of these works. Each spreadsheet contains the following sections:
First, an introduction to the genesis of the given work based on the state of current research and drawing on extant primary sources, i.e. Wilde’s own statements and letters, and/or those of his contemporaries.
Next, a table of the currently known and possible unknown manuscripts of each work. The table presents details on each manuscript in five fields:
- Present Location;
- Catalogue Entries; Notes.
The use of each field is described below.
Small, lan, Oscar Wilde Revalued: An Essay on New Materials and Methods of Research, Greensboro, NC, 1993.
Beckson, Karl, The Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia, New York, 1998.