The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

First produced at the St. James’s Theatre, London, 14 February 1895, by George Alexander (In the Season by Langdon Elwyn Mitchell was the curtain raiser).

First US production at the Empire Theatre, New York, April 22, 1895 by Charles Frohman (run less than a week).

First published in book form in February 1899 by Leonard Smithers. (https://bit.ly/3a2tOGk)


GENESIS

“My dear Aleck, Thanks for your letter. There is really nothing more to tell you about the comedy beyond what I said already. I mean the real charm of the play, if it is to have charm, must be in the dialogue. The plot is slight, but, I think, adequate [what follows is the first written scenario of The Importance of Being Earnest. See below no. 1] … Of course this scenario is open to alterations … I want to go away and write it – and it could be ready in October – as I have nothing else to do – and Palmer [Albert Marshman Palmer, produced Lady Windermere’s Fan in America] is anxious to have a play from me for the States ‘with no real serious interest’ – just a comedy.“ (letter to George Alexander [?July 1894], Complete Letters, pp. 595-7)

“Wilde’s introductory comment, ‘There really is nothing more to tell you about the comedy beyond what I said already,’ suggests that Wilde had already narrated the story in outline to Alexander, and perhaps to other people, following his long-established practice of refining and polishing his stories through repeated and developing versions.“ (Raby, “The Origins of The Importance of Being Earnest“, p. 139)

“The idea of a new play, a play of a different kind which would bring bags of much needed red gold for the author [see below Complete Letters, p. 603] , had surfaced earlier in the year. Wilde’s financial difficulties had grown steadily more severe during 1894, and had been accentuated by the delay in the production of An Ideal Husband, with [John] Hare initially reluctant to release his rights to it. (…) Wilde was in detailed correspondence with several managers and producers during 1894 over rights to his plays, both existing and unwritten: with Hare; with [Lewis] Waller over a ‘triple bill’; with Alexander; with Dion Boucicault, who produced Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Lyceum Theatre, Sydney, in May; with the American Palmer, who had asked for a play ‘‘with no real serious interest’ – just a comedy’; and with Charles Frohman, potentially his most advantageous contact.“ (ibid., p. 140)

“Wilde took rooms for himself and his family at The Haven, 5 Esplanade, Worthing for the months of August and September, and there wrote the greater part of The Importance of Being Earnest.“ (Complete Letters, p. 598n)

“I am in a very much worse state for money than I told you. But am just finishing a new play which, as it is quite nonsensical and has no serious interest, will I hope bring me a lot of red gold.“ (letter to Charles Spurrier Mason, August 1894, ibid., p. 603)

“Saturday 25 August – The initial draft of The Importance of Being Earnest is perhaps all but finished, for Constance writes to Lady Mount Temple: ‘Oscar has written a play here, so I love this place now!’“ (Edmonds, “Chronology“, p. 109)

“Dear Aleck, What do you think of this for a play for you? [what follows is the scenario for a further play that eventually became Mr and Mrs Daventry written up by Frank Harris].“ (letter from Worthing to George Alexander [August 1894], Complete Letters, pp. 599-600)

“My dear Aleck, ! can’t make out what could have become of your letter. I thought from your silence that you thought the play [The Importance of Being Earnest] too farcical in incident for a comedy theatre like your own, or that you didn’t like my asking you to give me some money. I thought of telegraphing to you, but then changed my mind.
As regards the American rights: when you go to the States, it won’t be to produce a farcical comedy. You will go as a romantic actor of modem and costume pieces. My play, though the dialogue is sheer comedy, and the best I have ever written, is of course in idea farcical: it could not be made part of a repertoire of serious or classical pieces, except for fun …
I would be charmed to write a modem comedy-drama for you, and to give you rights on both sides of the disappointing Atlantic Ocean, but you, of all our young actors, should not go to America to play farcical comedy. … Besides, I hope to make at least £3000 in the states with this play, so what sum could I ask you for, with reference to double rights? Something that you, as a sensible manager, would not dream of paying. No: I want to come back to you. I would like to have my play done by you (I must tell you candidly that the two young men’s parts are equally good), but it would be neither for your artistic reputation as a star in the States, nor for my pecuniary advantage, for you to produce it for a couple of nights in each big American town. It would be throwing the thing away.
I may mention that the play is an admirable play. I can’t come up to town, I have no money. (Why doesn’t Hardacre [John Pitt Hardacre, touring manager in the 1890s] give us something more?) Write me your views – about the whole business.“ (letter to George Alexander, ?September 1894, ibid., p. 610)

“I have been doing nothing here but bathing and playwriting. My play is really very funny: I am quite delighted with it. But it is not shaped yet. It lies in Sibylline leaves about the room, and Arthur [Wilde’s butler] has twice made a chaos of it by ‘tidying up’.“ (letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, 13 August 1894, ibid., p. 602 [should read 10 September. See Edmonds “‘You will come, won’t you?’“, pp. 30-2]) 

“It is hard to be certain what stage the script had reached. It must have been developed enough for Wilde to assert, as he did, that ‘the two young men’s parts are equally good,’ and that it was ‘an admirable play,’ but he does not suggest that Alexander could read it, or that he might read it to him. It must still have been in manuscript. The letter ends abruptly: ‘I can’t come up to town, I have no money. … Write me your views – about this whole business.’
Alexander presumably did just that, and sent Wilde the fare to London, for on Thursday, September 6th Wilde lunched with Alexander at the Garrick Club, got some money from him, and returned to Worthing by the 4:30 train.“ (Raby, “The Origins of The Importance of Being Earnest“, pp. 141-2)

“Wilde transferred his rough draft of each act into an exercise book before sending it to Mrs Marshall’s Typewriting Office for transcription. He cleaned up a messy first draft so that it would be more legible. He also avoided any ‘dramatic’ disordering of pages by submitting bound pages to the typist.“ (Berggren, The Definitive Four-Act Version, pp. 24-5)

“In September and October, Wilde went through several drafts of the play, sending his revisions to the typing agency one act at a time and getting clean typescripts to work with. Portions of the play were typed on September 19 [see no. 9], October 8, October 15, and October 25 [see no. 10].“ (ibid., pp. 26-7)

“My dear Aleck, I have been ill in bed for a long time, with a sort of malaria fever, and have not been able to answer your kind letter of invitation. I am quite well now, and, as you wished to see my somewhat farcical comedy, I send you the first copy of it. It is called Lady Lancing on the cover: but the real title is The Importance of Being Earnest. When you read the play, you will see the punning title’s meaning. Of course, the play is not suitable to you at all: you are a romantic actor: the people it wants are actors like [Charles] Wyndham and [Charles] Hawtrey. Also, I would be sorry if you altered the definite artistic line of progress you have always followed at the St James’s. But, of course, read it, and let me know what you think about it. I have very good offers from America for it.“ (letter to George Alexander, c. 25 October 1894, Complete Letters, p. 620)

“All the evidence points to Wilde constructing The Importance of Being Earnest with great rapidity and zest, incorporating material which lay convincingly at hand – names, incidents, circumstances – into an outline, and more crucially a tone and manner, which had already taken shape in his mind.“ (Raby, “The Origins of The Importance of Being Earnest“, p. 143)

“He rewrote and revised Earnest extensively, both pre- and post-production.“ (Raby, “Wilde, and How to Be Modern“, p. 149)

“Although Wilde allowed typists to prepare drafts of his play, he left out two speeches from the last scene, gave Mrs Marshall’s office a false title, and reversed the subtitle. He called the play Lady Lancing. A Serious Comedy for Trivial People. … Wilde did not want the general public to know about the pun before opening night, so he kept it a secret even from the typist.“ (Berggren, The Definitive Four-Act Version, p. 27)

“To protect the joke [at the end of the play – Jack: ‘I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.’], Wilde omitted the lines from all the early drafts of the play.“ (ibid.) 

“Wilde’s revisions produced more radical and unconventional roles for Earnest’s female characters, transforming them through successive drafts into stronger and more original individuals.“ (Eltis, Revising Wilde, pp. 181-2)

“In the first draft of The Importance of Being Earnest Cecily and Gwendolen are far from being on equal terms with their men. Indeed, many of the jokes in the first manuscripts are at the expense of women and their aspirations to equality.“ (ibid., p. 188)

“By the end of October, Wilde was satisfied with his farcical comedy. Mrs Marshall’s office then prepared two copies of Lady Lancing for his prospective producers [George Alexander, London [no. 12]; Charles Frohman, New York [no. 13]].“ (Berggren, The Definitive Four-Act Version, p. 28)

“We do not know the exact number of typescripts prepared by Mrs Marshall’s agency at the end of October or in early November, but it must have been at least three: one for George Alexander [no. 12], another for Charles Frohman [no. 13], and a third for Wilde himself [no. 14]. A carbon copy was of course an additional possibility, in each case, although no such copies have survived.“ (Donohue, Complete Works, vol. X, p. 611) 

“Alexander had some objections to the play. As manager of the St. James’s Theatre, one of the most prestigious theaters in London, he liked to start an evening’s entertainment with a ‘curtain-raiser,’ a one-act play that allowed theatergoers to arrive fashionably late. A three-act play would then follow. But Wilde had written a four-act comedy. A ‘curtain-raiser’ before it would make the evening too long. No ‘curtain-raiser’ meant latecomers would miss the first act and would not understand what was going on in the play.“ (Berggren, The Definitive Four-Act Version, p. 29)

“… privately Wilde had a great deal to say to Alexander, who was agitated by the stream of suggestions and at length determined to put his foot down, telling Wilde that everything he wanted would be done, but preferably in his absence. ‘If you don’t leave us alone, we’ll never be ready; so go away like a good fellow and come back again for the first performance.“ (Pearson, Oscar Wilde, p. 225)

“It must have been clear to Wilde also by the time of his departure [to Algiers, ] that Alexander was determined to reconstruct Lady Lancing as a three-act play, and so must have realized that from then on it was Alexander himself who would assert complete control over the text that would emerge on the stage of his theatre on St Valentine’s Day, a scant month later.“ (Donohue, Complete Works, vol. X, pp. 613-4)

“Emblematic of this goal was the manager’s decision to excise the scene in Act II in which Algy masquerading as Ernest Worthing is attached for debt, having run up an enormous bill for suppers at the Savoy Restaurant, a scene which has latterly become blown as the ‘Gribsby episode’ … .“ (ibid., p. 614)

“This scene that you feel is superfluous cost me terrible exhausting labour and heart-rendering nerve-racking strain. You may not believe me, but I assure you on my honour that it must have taken fully five minutes to write it.“ (Wilde to George Alexander, quoted in Pearson, Oscar Wilde, p. 225) 

“Franklin Dyall, who played the part of Merriman, has given me several interesting particulars: ‘I can remember very clearly the first reading of the play – Wilde’s delicious enjoyment of it – delicious is the only word – the actors’ conceit that only they would appreciate it – it wouldn’t get over the public … I don’t remember that Wilde interfered at all at rehearsal – or, if he did, it was privately, as it should be done, with the producer (G. A.).“ (ibid.)

“As the play was cut, new typescripts were prepared. The earliest known three-act version of the play is the one submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s office on January 30, 1895, for licensing [see below, no. 29]. Like its four-act predecessors, it is entitled Lady Lancing. Unlike the four-act typescripts, it was typed by Miss Dickens’s Typewriting Office, the service that Alexander used. Wilde also sent one of Miss Dickens’s typescripts of the three-act play to New York for the American production. When Charles Frohman received the new version, he put the untouched four-act typescript on a shelf and forgot about it.“ (Berggren, The Definitive Four-Act Version,  p. 31)

“No English play for many years has been the subject of so much competition among American managers … . The manuscript of this play was sent to America before its production in London, but, after reading it, no manager developed any particular enthusiasm about it … .
It was announced yesterday, however, that Charles Frohman had secured the American right to the play by cable … .“ (The New York Times, 27 Feb. 1895, p. 16) 

“If you can, send me the type written copy. I would be glad to read the play with all the brilliant dialogue.“ (letter from Lady Wilde to Oscar Wilde, Feb. 15, 1895, in Tipper, Lady Jane Wilde’s Letters, p. 170)

“The change of Lady Brancaster’s name to Lady Bracknell, recorded in the opening night program, must have been Wilde’s inspiration, for Bracknell was the location of Lord Alfred Douglas’s mother’s (Lady Queensberry’s) house (…); and the change must have been after Ethel Dickens’s preparation of the licensing copy, received by the Lord Chamberlain on 30 January, since the character in the licensing copy remains Lady Brancaster.“ (Donohue and Berggren, p. 72)

“The cutting of the gardener, Moulton, however, surely reveals Alexander’s hand: although the typescript itself of the licensing copy retains the character, the sequence in which he appears has been inked out.“ (ibid., p. 73)

“We can presume that one or more scripts were generated during what was surely a hurried and productive period of activity. Unfortunately, no texts, whole or partial, appear to have survived from this period of preparation – except, of course, the Lord Chamberlain’s typescript itself.“ (ibid.)

“… the earliest extant three-act text recording many, but not all, of the results of this frenetic rehearsal period is that of the licensing copy.“ (ibid.)

“The relationship between the various drafts, manuscript and typescript, both the three- and four-act version, is hard to establish definitively.“  (Raby, “The Origins of The Importance of Being Earnest“, p. 139)

“… it seems to be the case that the revisions evidenced in the typescript and manuscript drafts of plays such as A Woman of No Importance and The Importance of Being Earnest represent changes made for specific and local circumstances; they do not, in other words, follow any teleological pattern.“ (Jackson and Small, “Oscar Wilde: A ‘Writerly’ Life“, p. 3)

“’I heard from Oscar to-day. … I believe now that if you could come to some arrangement with the official Reviewer it would be worth your while to issue Oscar’s plays. But contrary to Oscar’s wishes, begin with the ‘Importance of Being Earnest’ which is far the best,’ etc.“, (letter from Robert Ross to Leonard Smithers, n.d., quoted in The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920, lot 399, p. 69)

“Type-write Alexander’s copy and send it to me. This will save great expense in printing etc.“ (letter to Leonard Smithers, c. 4 May 1898, Complete Letters, p. 1060)

“The ‘format’ of the play should be identical – in type, paper, setting, margin, etc. – with the format of the other plays, and Shannon should do a similar cover, same cloth, same colour, and similar design.
It should be out early in June, so as to have at least six weeks’ run for its money.
Kindly get from the St. James’s a playbill, and date of production. I reproduce the cast always.
I await the type-written copy with eagerness. Of course I cut out all the stage-directions.“ (letter to Leonard Smithers, c. 8 May 1898, Complete Letters, pp. 1062-3) .

“I hope to get a type-written copy of Bunbury soon, and to work on it. In type, size, paper, and the like, it should be identical with the other plays, and Shannon should do the cover“ (letter to Robert Ross, 10 May 1898, ibid. p. 1064)

“Do please tell me if I am to have proofs of my play [possibly no. 23], and when. I have been expecting to see you for days. (letter to Leonard Smithers, 18 October 1898, ibid., p. 1098)

“My dear Smithers, I return second batch of proofs: they are very good indeed. Send the third installment as soon as possible.“ (23 November 1898, ibid., p. 1100)

“I have corrected two-thirds of my proofs, and await the last act.“ (letter to Robert Ross, 25 November 1898, ibid., p. 1102)

“My dear Smithers, I return the proofs. Will you kindly see if Chasuble is called ‘Chasuble’ or ‘Doctor Chasuble’ in Act II? If he is called ‘Doctor Chasuble’ of course the title, in the headline, should be continued. Shannon will do the cover.
If you don’t hear from Alexander, kindly ask one of your clerks to look up the Era for February 1895 – about the 14th – all the cast will be there. The Era newspaper, of course: also the date of the production must be given.
Shannon will send you the design in a few days. Of course you will have the same lovely cloth.
The original title was

The Importance of being Earnest:
A Trivial Comedy for Serious People.

Would this be too much for the title page? I think not. You must add ‘by the author of Lady Windermere’s Fan’.“ (1 December 1898, ibid., p. 1104)

“I have corrected all the proofs of my play, but I feel sure my ‘woulds’ and ‘shoulds’, my ‘wills’ and ‘shalls’, are all wrong. Perhaps you might look at them.“ (letter to Robert Ross, 2 December 1898, ibid., p. 1105)

“This is to show you where the poet is now living [Napoule, Cannes]. I sent you the proofs days ago. Pray acknowledge them.“ (postcard to Leonard Smithers, c. 18 December 1898, ibid., p. 1111)

“I am sending you, of course, a  copy of my book. It was extraordinary reading the play over. How I used to toy with that tiger Life!“ (letter to Reginald Turner, 3 February 1899, ibid. p. 1122)

“Few people knew of the earlier, longer version until 1947, when James Agate, a critic for the London Sunday Times, discovered a German translation of the four-act play [see no. 27]. …
In 1956, the New York Public Library published ‘The Original Four-act Version’ of Earnest, edited by Sarah Augusta Dickson [no. 28] and based on the manuscript version of the play. In the following year, Vyvyan Holland, Wilde’s son, published a version of the play, using the German translation as the basis for an attempted reconstruction of Wilde’s original intentions.“ (Berggren, The Definitive Four-Act Version, p. 35)

“… the four-act typescript that Wilde had sent to Frohman [no. 13] remained unnoticed and forgotten. When Frohman went down on the Lusitania in 1915, his associate Charles Dillingham acquired his collection of playscripts. In 1935 [read 1934. Dillingham died end of August 1934], Dillingham was on the verge of bankruptcy. In order to hide valuable theater materials from his creditors, he gave them to a friend for safekeeping. Dillingham died shortly after the bankruptcy, leaving his friend, R.H.Burnside, with an attic full of papers, props and costumes. Shortly before Burnside’s death in 1953, the New York Public Library gained access to the materials and rescued them just a month before the scheduled demolition of Burnside’s New Jersey home.“ (ibid., pp. 35-6)

“The New York Public Library acquired the papers in 1953, but the box containing the Oct. 31 ‘Earnest’ was not opened until 1967 [no. 13]. No one realized the vital importance of the Oct. 31 ‘Earnest’ until Dr. Berggren read it in 1977.“ (The New York Times, Nov. 18, 1985, p. 53)

“He [C. S. Bement] came into the possession of the corrected typescripts of several Wilde plays. One of these was the four-act version of The Importance of Being Earnest, under the name “Lady Lancing.“ From him they passed to John B. Stetson, whose magnificent Wilde collection was sold at auction in New York in 1920. He had typescripts , corrected by the author, of four plays. Among these were three typescripts of The Importance of being Earnest: one of Act I in an early version [see below no. 14], the second the four-act version just mentioned and the third a three-act version closely conforming to the published play. Both Bement and Stetson were frequent visitors to England. It seems reasonable to suppose that they made purchases for their libraries on these occasions and that these rare typescripts were obtained from Robert Ross, before 1909, when the latter, having restored Wilde’s estate to solvency, presented a number of the author’s manuscripts and typescripts to the British Museum. From him the avid collector of Wilde’s works could expect nothing more.“ (Dickson (ed.), The Importance of Being Earnest, p. xiv)

“Modern readers of The Importance of Being Earnest can choose three different versions of it. First, there is the three-act ‘reading version’ that Wilde published in 1899 with Leonard Smithers [https://bit.ly/3a2tOGk] and that is reproduced in most modern editions. Then there are some modern editions – notably the Collins Complete Works – that print an earlier, four-act version of the play that has undergone some reconstruction from surviving manuscript and typescript drafts. To be precise, these consist of a series of exercise books containing what look to be the earliest drafts of the play set out in a four-act version; some slightly later typescripts of Acts I, III, and IV with Wilde’s notes and alterations and that are variously dated September and November 1894 [see no. 9]; and a full typescript of a four-act version of the play that is dated 31 October 1894 [nos. 12 and 13] (a transcription of which was first published in 1956 [no. 28]). Third and finally, Joseph Donohue (with the help of Ruth Berggren) has attempted to reconstruct the text of the first performance of the play – that is, the three-act play that George Alexander staged at the St. James Theatre in 1895 and that differed in several respects from the three-act play that Wilde published in 1899 (the licensing copy of The Importance of Being Earnest in the Lord Chamberlain’s Collection in the British Library is also in three acts [no. 29]).
Each of these three texts of The Importance of Being Earnest has a different kind of authority and thus possesses a different claim on our attention: none, however, can be said to be entirely the product of Wilde’s own hand.“ (Guy and Small, Studying Oscar Wilde, p. 135n)

NOTES, DRAFTS, MANUSCRIPTS

Version

Present Location

Shelfmark

Provenance

Catalogue Entries / Notes

Lady Lancing, 4 Acts

1 .First Scenario

(letter to George Alexander,
?July 1894)

16 pp. 

Private collection of Ömer Koç

the earliest plot summary of “The Importance of Being Earnest“, penned act-by-act

A three-act-scenario, outlined in a letter to George Alexander [?July 1894]
(see
Complete Letters, p. 595-7):

“.. the real charm of the play, if it is to have charm, must be in the dialogue. The plot is slight, but, I think, adequate.
Of course this scenario is open to alterations … I want to go away and write it – and it could be ready in October – as I have nothing else to do – and Palmer is anxious to have a play from me for the States ‘with no real serious interest’ – just a comedy.“
(ibid
., p. 597)

Ömer Koç

Books and Manuscripts: A Summer Miscellany, Sotheby’s, London, 28 July – 4 August 2020, lot 168

autograph letter signed (‘oscar’), to the actor and impresario george alexander (‘my dear aleck’)

providing an act-to-act summary of his new play, which became the importance of being earnest, explaining that ‘the real charm of the play, if it is have charm, must be in the dialogue,’ outlining the plot in Three Acts … 16 pages, 8vo, headed stationery of The Albemarle Club corrected to ’16 Tite Street, SW,’ [?July 1894]; in collector’s folding box and red morocco gilt slipcase; light spotting, some dust-staining to final page.

sold for £126,000 (€139,742, $165,712)

in private hands

see Complete Letters, p. 595

Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including Americana, Sotheby’s, New York, Dec. 7, 1999, lot 299

“Autograph letter signed, 16 pages (8 x 5 in.; 203 x 127 mm), Tite Street, SW, [1894], on stationery from the Albemarle Club (watermark ‘Pirie’s Old Style’), to George Alexander (‘My dear Aleck’); a few foxing spots in vertical fold, first and final page very slightly dustsoiled. Red morocco slip-case, lettered in gilt.

Extremely early draft scene for The Importance of Being Earnest. Writing to his personal friend and potential investor, Wilde suggests that his new play could be ready by October. Since the play premiered on St. Valentine’s Day of 1895, we can deduct that this manuscript dates from perhaps the summer of 1894 …

An Extremely significant letter and dramatic treatment, previously known only by a published fragment. See Letters of Oscar Wilde, ed. Hart-Davis, p. 359, for a brief fragment reprinted from A.E.W. Mason’s Sir George Alexander and the St. James [sic] Theatre.
$35,000-45,000“

“This letter, the first scenario for The Importance of Being Earnest and lost for many years, was sold at Sotheby’s New York in November [December 7] 1999 for $70,000.“
(
Complete Letters, p. 595n)

“ALs, [1894] 16 pp. 8 by 5 inches. To George Alexander. Concerning early draft scenes of The Importance of Being Earnest. Foxed. Dust-soiled. In mor gilt slipcase. P Dec 7 (299) $70,000.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. 106, 2000, p. 201)

?Robert L. B. Tobin

“named consignor“
(
see American Book-Prices Current, vol. 106, 2000, p. XIV)

?Miscellaneous Rare Books, First Editions, Autographs, from the Estate of the late Gabriel Wells, Catalogue No. 3, Charles S. Boesen, New York [1949], item 414

Four Autograph Letters, Signed.

26 pages, 12mo, about 1,000 words, in ink, V.p., n.d. $175.00.

A FINE SERIES of letters, all addressed to “My dear Aleck.“ They are concerned, for the most part,  with ‘… my new farcical comedy …’ [see Complete Letters, p. 620] The Importance of Being Earnest. Wilde also mentions the success, in New York, of The Duchess of Padua [see ibid., pp. 463-4].“

[It seems likely that one of the four letters is the 16-page letter from Wilde to Alexander, in which he sketches the scenario of The Importance of Being Earnest. This could explain why four letters are 26 pages in total. The two letters quoted above are approximately no more than four autograph pages each]

?Gabriel Wells

Catalogue of Valuable Printed Books, Fine Illuminated and Other Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Historical Documents, Literary Manuscripts and Relics, Sotheby’s, London, 3-5 July 1933, lot 608

The Property of Lady Alexander

A.L.s. (Oscar), 16 pp., 8vo, 16, Tite St. Chelsea, to the same [i.e. George Alexander], a very important letter, giving him a complete first draft of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’

This very interesting synopsis gives the play eventually in its final form, but there are many changes in detail …“

[was sold for £23 (Rare Book Hub)]

Lady Alexander

George Alexander

2. Autograph Notes
(together with manuscript notes of A Woman of No Importance)

[no later than July-August 1894]

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

W6721M2 N911

no digital copy

1929

Wilde, Oscar.
[Notes of aphorisms and dialogue used in
A woman of no importance and The importance of being earnest]. Bound; Dulau 3; English; Wilde W6721M2 N911.
Reel: 23, Item No. 8

“[Notes of aphorisms and dialogue used in A woman of no importance and The importance of being earnest]
MS. notebook. 9×7-3/4 in.
Covered with brown paper jacket.
Dulau 3.“
(
Finzi 2469)

“Its first working title was ‘The Guardian,’ and the manuscript notebook in the Clark Library, which also contains speeches for A Woman of No Importance, seems to be an attempt at expanding aspects of the first scenario.
(Raby, “The Origins of
The Importance of Being Earnest“, p. 142) 

“… entries made presumably after the scenario had been sent to Alexander but before or during the time in early August when the author was beginning to draft his latest play.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 70)

“What is striking about the first entry in the notebook is its effective focus on the importance of being named Ernest, by way of words put into the mouth of an intelligent, assertive young woman whose name is Gwendolen …“
(ibid., p. 68)

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 3

“A WOMAN OF NOT IMPORTANCE and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. A collection of ms. notes, mostly in pencil, written in an exercise book; mostly aphorisms and speeches for use in those two plays. In most cases the notes have been crossed through when they werde incorporated in the later MSS., but a few of them do not appear to have been used.“

[catalogue price was £150]

Vyvyan Holland

Christopher Millard / Stuart Mason

Robert Ross

3. Autograph Notes
(“The Guardian“)
(together with manuscript “of a second draft“ of A Woman of No Importance, plus 4 extra pages)

3 pages

unknown

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 322

“The Original Manuscript of a second draft of ‘Woman of No Importance,’ written in ink and pencil, on about 45 pp., with the very first inception of ‘The Importance of being Earnest’ which Wilde commenced under the title of ‘The Guardian,’ on 3 pp., and ‘Some slight half-truths for the use of Schools,’ on 4pp., in a 4to note-book.“ 

“Besides the unpublished Wilde manuscript in the sale at Hodgson’s [‘The Woman Covered with Jewels’] 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“

?Vyvyan Holland

?Christopher Millard / Stuart Mason

?Robert Ross

4. Autograph Manuscript
(“A
trivial serious comedy for serious trivial people“
[the title
Lady Lancing is introduced at the beginning of Act II for the first time])

Acts I and II
3 volumes (3  notebooks)

Act I
– 70 pages / 90 leaves
– 28 pages / 86 leaves

[?August-September 1894]

Act II
– 84 pages / 112 leaves

[no later than 6 October]

George Arents Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

Arents S 1534 no. 1

digital copies:
Act 1.1
: https://on.nypl.org/31xJ4Xb
Act 1.2: https://on.nypl.org/37cvfPb
Act 2: https://on.nypl.org/35uYhK3
[see also no. 28, Dickson (ed.), The Importance of Being Earnest, vol. 2, Act 2]

acquired April 1950

“Holograph, comprising Acts I-II of the original four-act version of The importance of being earnest. …

Title altered from: A trivial comedy for serious people.

Title in vol. 3: Lady Lancing. Act II (altered from: Act III)

With author’s ms. emendations, deletions, etc., in the text and on facing blank pages.

Revised three-act version published under title The importance of being earnest. London, 1899.

Included in three notebooks of 90, 86 (4 leaves excised) and 112 (one leaf excised) leaves respectively; remaining leaves are blank, except for 5 leaves of vol. 3 which contain holograph drafts of passages from La sainte courtisane [and A Florentine Tragedy].“

[at the beginning Act II (volume three), in Wilde’s hand:
“Property of / Oscar Wilde / 26 Kings Road / Brighton / where the type-written / copy is to be sent
]

“Perhaps our most exciting find … was the autograph manuscript by Oscar Wilde of Acts I and II of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ as originally written. This was accompanied by heavily corrected typescripts of Act I, III, and IV of the play, which the author wrote originally in four acts. It is well known that it was printed in three acts and always so acted in England and America. Thus about one-fourth had remained unpublished until we printed it, with the cooperation of the British Museum, which owned the manuscript of Acts III and IV.“
(Dickson, “An Appreciation“, p. 657

“What had happened to the manuscript is curious. It consisted of four quarto-size note-books. Somehow they got separated. In 1909, Wilde’s literary executor, Robert Ross, presented a number of Wilde manuscripts to the British Museum, but only the fourth of the note-books was amongst them. The whereabouts of the other three … remained a mystery for many years. Apparently they had been borrowed by a friend of Wilde’s named Arthur Clifton, who was also a business associate of Ross, and they were never returned. They came to light on the death of Clifton’s widow, being discovered among her effects in an old trunk. They were sold by public auction in London in 1950, when I had the opportunity of examining them and satisfying myself as to their genuineness. Their eventual purchaser was an American collector, Mr. George Arents, and they are now in the Arents Collection in the New York City Public Library.“
(H. Montgomery Hyde, “‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ – The ‘lost’ play …“ in
The Listener, 1954, p. 753

“First, I should say that I am alive and likely to live for some time yet. Secondly, the manuscript was never ‘lost’. It was given to my husband by Wilde (he was a close friend of both Wilde and Ross) and I have always known of it.
My husband was a very untidy man, and at his death left me a mass of papers to go through. It was not until the late thirties that I got down to them, and there, of course, was the manuscript: lost only in the sense that I had forgotten about it. 

I sold it to a dealer at the end of the war. I wonder how often it changed hands before it came up for auction.“
(Madeline Clifton, “Letter to the Editor“ in
The Listener, 1954, pp. 1028-9)

Act I: “Lady Lancing (…). ?August-September 1894. Arents Collection, New York Public Library. Act I only. In the form of two exercise which together comprise the act. Composed at Worthing. Its subtitle, ‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’, has been revised by the author to read ‘A Serious Comedy for Trivial People’.

The earliest surviving manuscript of Act I, presumably an initial fair copy made from loose manuscript leaves, which do not survive. It consists of a pair of bound notebooks with lined pages containing together the first and second halves of the act. The writing occurs predominantly on recto pages, with numerous insertions on the facing verso, almost all of them keyed to the recto. A conjectural complimentary manuscript of Act II dating from the same conjectural period as Act I, once thought to be among the manuscripts in the Arents Collection, has proved elusive. The manuscript for Act I and the elusive script of Act II are together complementary to manuscripts for Acts III and IV with this same conjectural date, now in the British Library [no. 5].“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 168)

“… it lays out in a clear and coherent but not yet fully developed sequence the initial action of the play. Four of the seven major characters are introduced, their relationships with one another articulated …“
(ibid., p. 77)

Act II: “Lady Lancing (…). No later than 6 October 1894. Arents Collection, New York Public Library. Holograph manuscript, heavily revised. Act II only. Composed largely at Worthing, completed at Brighton. Collotype facsimile published in Dickson, Vol. II.

The earliest surviving manuscript of Act II. Presumably a fair copy made from loose manuscript leaves, which do not survive, it consists of a bound notebook with lined pages. The writing is predominantly on recto leaves, with numerous insertions on the facing verso, almost all keyed to the recto. Pagination has been supplied by the author in Arabic numerals at the top right corner of each page, and circled, up through page 21, then resumed on page 30 and extended to page 80. Stage directions are surrounded by the author in square brackets. The first page is endorsed ’Property of Oscar Wilde / 26 Kings Road / Brighton / where the type-written copy is to be sent’ – thus implicitly identifying  the manuscript as to be intended for Mrs Marshall’s London typewriting office, the resulting typescript to be sent  to the author in Brighton at the address provided.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, pp. 168-9)

“Its basic character is of a fair copy in ink, but the copy is not uniform or complete in this state. In some instances, it appears to break off and original composition ensues, some of it in pencil; sometimes even the fair copy is in pencil, not ink.“
(ibid., p. 111)

“The original manuscript of Acts I and II of Oscar Wilde’s ’The Importance of Being Earnest’ … has been acquired by the New York Public Library and is currently on exhibit in Room 324 …“
(
The New York Times, Aug. 11, 1950, p. 17)

?A.S.W. Rosenbach

?via B. F. Stevens

B. F. Stevens

[purchased for £420 0 0, see Sotheby’s price-list]

Valuable Printed Books, Important Literary Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, etc. … and A Very Remarkable Series of Manuscripts of Oscar Wilde, Sotheby’s, London, 3-4 April 1950, lot 211

The Importance of Being Earnest, under the title of Lady Lancing, the manuscripts of Act I and II, entirely in the hand of the author, written in ink (except for a few pages in pencil) with numerous revisions and inserted passages, on 281 ll.., in three ruled notebooks, the first bearing on its title-page the inscription: ‘Property of Oscar Wilde, 26 King’s Road, Brighton, where the typewritten copy is to be sent’, leather cloth, 4to.“

A Highly Important Series of Manuscripts of Oscar Wilde formerly the property of a. b. clifton, partner with ronald [Robert] ross in the carfax galleries, And now Sold by the Order of Michael Sadleir, Esq.“
(Sotheby’s, 3-4 April 1950, p. 28)

“The 10 manuscripts fetched in all £1,592, the highest price being £420, which was paid by a bookseller for Acts I and II of ‘The importance of being earnest.’ They were being sold for Mr Michael Sadleir who bought them shortly after the War.“
(
Northern Whig, 4 April 1950, p. 4)

[A.S.W. Rosenbach was present at the auction, and he bought heavily]

“A series of 177 letters written by Charles Darwin … were bought by Dr. Rosenbach of Philadelphia.“
(
Dundee Evening Telegraph, 3 April 1950)

“A series of 177 autograph letters written by Charles Darwin … fetched £5,200 at Sotheby’s yesterday. The purchaser was an agent of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach of New York and Philadelphia [?B.F. Stevens].“
(
The Times, 4 April 1950, p. 4)

Michael Sadleir

unknown book dealer

Madeline Clifton

Arthur B. Clifton

“It is said, unverifiably, that Clifton purchased one or more typescripts, including one or more of The Importance of Being Earnest, at the Tite Street sale of Wilde’s possession that occurred on 24 April 1895. H. Montgomery Hyde tells a different story, in which Clifton borrows from Wilde the notebooks that comprise the first draft of the play but forgets to return them, and they end up being discovered in an old trunk by Clifton’s widow. The notebooks were then sold at auction and purchased by George Arents …“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX. pp. 39-40)

5. Autograph Manuscript
(“Lady Lancing“)

Acts III and IV
– draft of part of Act I
– typed draft of a cancelled passage of Act II

191 folios

[?August-September 1894]

British Library
London

Add MS 37948

digital copy:
https://bit.ly/2MasMNG

presented by Robert Ross in 1909

(together with mss of “Lady Windermere’s Fan“ [see no. 5], “A Woman of No Importance“ [see nos. 5 and 6], “An Ideal Husband“ [see nos. 4 and 10], plus additional mss, i.e. “The Sphinx“ [no. 8], “De Profundis“)

“Autograph and typewritten drafts of Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, titled Lady Lancing. Acts II and III were compressed into Act II in the published version. At folio 1 is a draft in pencil of part of the final version of Act I, and at folio 7 a typed draft of a cancelled passage in Act II.“

[at the beginning of Act III and in Act IV (leaf f104v, opposite note to the typewriting office ‘Act IV continued’ ), is written in Wilde’s hand: ’Property of / Oscar Wilde E. [Esquire] / 5 Esplanade / Worthing’]

British Library binding.

British Museum stamps

Lady Lancing (…). ?August – September 1894. British Library. Holograph, heavily revised. Acts III and IV only. Composed at Worthing. 

… The first page is a folio-sized sheet, faintly lined in blue, folded, with dialogue beginning ‘(Enter Lane) / Lane Miss Fairfax’; a a note at the top in pencil in Wilde’s hand reads ‘page 38 of Act I’. … This is almost entirely a holograph manuscript on lined pages, along with two annotated typescript pages near the beginning, all individually tipped in. … Complementary to the manuscript for Act I now in the Arents Collection, New York Public Library …“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 170)

“At the very beginning, as mentioned, are a brief holograph manuscript and another brief typescript. The manuscript, marked for insertion on page 28 [i.e. page 38; f1v, f2r; f3v, f4r; f5v, f6r] of the holograph manuscript in the Arents Collection … [no. 4], sets out a revised closing scene for Act I … The second item, the typescript, consisting of three leaves [pp. 17-19, f7v, f8r; f9v, f10r; f11v, f12r], is a representation of much of the so-called ‘Gribsby episode’ in Act II … . The scene has been cancelled by the author with diagonal lines drawn through each page – presumably, an indication that the scene has been transcribed into its proper place in the act.“
(ibid., p. 171)

Robert Ross

6. Autograph Manuscript Copy

4 Acts (first draft)

British Library
London

???

“The following versions of the four-act play are known:
1. Autograph manuscript. first draft. Complete in four Acts, British Library
…“
(see
Prescott Collection, Christie’s, 1981, p. 197)

[this manuscript is not listed in the catalogue of the British Library

7. Autograph Manuscript

one leaf

unknown

[not clearly assignable to “The Importance of Being Earnest“]

Fine and Rare Books Including Selections from the Collection of M. M. Friend, of New York City, The Anderson Auction Company, New York, Feb. 14-15, 1910, lot 611

“The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. First edn. Square 8vo, original cloth, uncut. Lond. 1899 

Large Paper copy, of which but a hundred were issued, each signed in full by the author. Accompanying the volume is a sheet of manuscript, in French and English (written on both sides) in Wilde’s autograph.“

The Importance of being Earnest. First edition. Lond., 1899. 8vo.
Cl., unc. (Large paper, with a sheet of manuscript in the author’s autograph laid in), Friend, A., Feb. 14, ’10. (611) $25.00“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XVI, 1910, p. 754)

M. M. Friend

8. Typewritten Manuscript

Acts I and II

[?September 1894]

unknown

[belonging to no. 9]

9. Typewritten Manuscript
(“Lady Lancing“)

Acts III and IV – together with Act I
[dated 1 Nov. 1894, see below no. 14]

Act III
– 33 pages

Act IV
– 35 pages

19 September 1894

George Arents Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

Arents S 1534 no. 2

no digital copy

acquired April 1950

“Typescript, with stamps of Mrs. Marshall’s Type-writing Office, London; 1 Nov. 94 (Act I) [see below no. 14] and 19 Sep. 94 (Acts III-IV)

Comprises Acts I, III and IV of the original four-act version of the importance of being earnest. …

With author’s ms. emendations, deletions, etc., in the Text and on facing blank pages.

Revised three-act version published under the title The importance of being earnest, London 1899.“

Lady Lancing (…). 19 September 1894. Arents Collection, New York Public Library. Two typescripts, heavily revised and augmented, for Acts Ill and IV, respectively. Date stamped on each typescript by Mrs Marshall’s agency, along with her stamp. Composed at Worthing, transcribed in London by Mrs Marshall’s agency. Collotype facsimiles of Acts III and IV published in Dickson, Volume II.

Evidently, Wilde sent a still-unfinished draft of Act III to Mrs Marshall to be typed and then, after the typescript’s return, went through, pen in hand, adding to it extensively and completing it. He then reviewed it twice more, first making substantial changes in ink and then again, making incidental changes and additions in pencil. A completed draft for Act IV was sent to Mrs Marshall at the same time; when the typescript transcription was returned, it was then subjected to comparably extensive further revisions.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 171)

“In April 1950 the Arents Tobacco Collection of the New York Public Library  acquired the manuscript of Acts I and II  [see above no. 4] (…) and a corrected typescript of an early version of Acts III and IV, all written under the title Lady Lancing.“
(
Times Literary Supplement, 1 March 1957, p. 136)

?A.S.W. Rosenbach 

?via B.F. Stevens

B. F. Stevens

[purchased for £230 0 0, see Sotheby’s price-list]

Valuable Printed Books, Important Literary Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, etc. … and A Very Remarkable Series of Manuscripts of Oscar Wilde, Sotheby’s, London, 3-4 April 1950, lot 212

The Importance of Being Earnest, under the title of Lady Lancing, the manuscript of Acts III and IV, the first typescripts, heavily corrected throughout by the author, in ink with many re-written passages and additions in his hand, on 70 ll., dated by the Typewriting Office 19 Sept., ’94; the two Acts bound separately in brown paper wrappers, 4to.“

[facsimile of typewritten page no. 12 with autograph additions on the opposite blank page (see 1899 edition, pp. 90f), see sale catalogue, facing p. 28]

“A Highly Important Series of Manuscripts of Oscar Wilde, Formerly the Property of A. B. Clifton, Partner with Ronald [Robert] Ross in the Carfax Galleries, And now Sold by the Order of Michael Sadleir, Esq.“
(Sotheby’s, London, 3-4 April 1950, p. 28)

“A number of autograph manuscripts by Oscar Wilde reached high prices: … the heavily corrected typescripts of Acts 3 and 4, £230 …“
(
Times Literary Supplement, 19 May 1950, p. 316)

“The 10 manuscripts fetched in all £1,592 … They were being sold for Mr Michael Sadleir who bought them shortly after the War.“
(
Northern Whig, 4 April 1950, p. 4)

[A.S.W. Rosenbach was present at the auction, and he bought heavily]

“A series of 177 letters written by Charles Darwin … were bought by Dr. Rosenbach of Philadelphia.“
(
Dundee Evening Telegraph, 3 April 1950)

“A series of 177 autograph letters written by Charles Darwin … fetched £5,200 at Sotheby’s yesterday. The purchaser was an agent of Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach of New York and Philadelphia [?B.F. Stevens].“
(
The Times, 4 April 1950, p. 4)

Michael Sadleir

?Madeline Clifton

see above no. 4

Arthur B. Clifton

?Robert Ross

10. Typewritten Manuscript
(“Lady Lancing  – A Serious Comedy for Trivial People“)

4 Acts

118 leaves

Act I
– 39 leaves
– 8 October 1894

Act II
– 34 leaves
– 18 October 1894

Act III
– 24 leaves
– 25 October 1894

Act IV
– 23 leaves
– 25 October 1894

Eccles Collection
British Library
London

Add MS 81624

digital copy:
https://bit.ly/2Mc2haz

bequeathed to the BL in 2003

“Eccles Bequest. Vol. VI. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ Original four act version; 1894. Partly typewritten with extensive autograph revisions and corrections. From the Prescott Collection.

Binding: Green half morocco box“

each act bound separately

Clarence S. Bement, bookplate

[?no mention of John R. [B.] Stetson Jr. bookplate, which was loosely inserted in Prescott’s copy (see Prescott Collection, Christie’s, 1981, p. 199)]

dated stamps: “Mrs Marshall’s Type Writing Office, 126, Strand“

  • Act I is dated 8 October 94
  • Act II is dated 18 October 94
  • Acts III and IV are both dated 25 October 94

with extensive additions and revisions in Wilde’s hand

Lady Lancing {…). 3-25 October 1894. Eccles Collection, British Library. F’our typescripts, for Acts I, II, III, and IV, respectively, bound separately in plain brown wrappers, with extensive holograph additions and revisions. Dates stamped by Mrs Marshall’s agency: 3 Oct (Act I), 13 Oct (Act II), 25 Oct (Act III), and 25 Oct-(Act IV), along with her stamp. Composed partly in Worthing and Brighton and completed in London. Transcribed in London by the Marshall agency. Combination typescript and holograph, heavily revised.
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 171)

[Donohue misreads the stamps of Acts I and II with 3 October and 13 October, respectively]

“The earliest surviving complete manuscript of the play. Separate paper covers, somewhat tattered, each act stapled through along the left edge three times from the front and twice from the back. A paper label affixed to the cover of each typescript act, typewritten and double-lined in red ink at the margins, records the title: ‘LADY LANCING’. … Inside the cover of each act, the bookplate of Clarence S. Bement. On the title page, under the fictitious title: ‘A Serious Comedy for Trivial People’.

Overall, the Eccles typescripts as annotated by the author represent an extensive, well sustained, and remarkably successful effort to complete the play. … Annotations are in ink and pencil, in Wilde’s working hand, elliptical but reasonably legible nonetheless. Deletions are heavily gone over in pencil; deletion of multiple lines is often done by blocking out the entirely passage.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, pp. 171-2)

“By the end of October, the play was finished. Mrs Marshall’s Typing Office prepared two copies of the play, one for the New York producer Charles Frohman, and one for George Alexander of the St James’s Theatre.“
(Ruth Berggren in https://bit.ly/362LYVs [p. 8])

Eccles Collection

“The original of the typescript, with the author’s extensive holograph corrections and additions, was sold at Christie’s in New York, in 1981, for $90,000 and is now in the collection of Viscountess Eccles (formerly Hyde) in New Jersey, USA.“ 
(
Hyde, Christopher Millard, p. 115n) 

Mary Hyde / Viscountess Eccles

John F. Fleming

The Importance of Being Earnest, a book that brought $90,000 from the New York dealer John F. Fleming [former agent for Dr. Rosenbach and his successor].“
(
The New York Times, February 20, 1981 p. 65)

“The typed script, with additions and revisions in Wilde’s handwriting, was expected to sell for $25,000 to $35,000. It brought $90,000.“
(
The New York Times, March 1, 1981 p. 125)

[$99,000 incl. buyer’s premium]

The Prescott Collection: Printed Books and Manuscripts, including an extensive collection of books and manuscripts by Oscar Wilde, Christie, Manson & Woods (Christie’s), New York, February 6, 1981, lot 433

“Typescript with extensive additions and revisions in Wilde’s hand, of the original four-act version of The Importance of Being Earnest, London, 8-25 October 1894.

4 vols., 4to, Act I 39 leaves, Act II 34 leaves, Act III 24 leaves, Act IV 23 leaves, together 118 leaves, the typed text on rectos only, each part with title-page bearing the dated ink stamp of ‘Mrs Marshall’s Type Writing Office, 126, Strand.’ The laid paper sheets are without watermarks; each page is carefully ruled in red at left margins and with speakers’ names and stage directions underlined in red, each Act stapled and bound in coarse gray paper wrappers, with typed title-label on upper wrapper, the wrappers frayed and worn at extremities, blue levant morocco gilt solander case

The only complete extant typescript of the original four-act version of Wilde’s most important play, the Bement-Stetson-Prescott Typescript. The play here bears the title ‘Lady Lancing’ (adopted for purposes of concealing the actual title) on title-pages and wrapper labels. The play was composed between August 1894 and January 1895 and at the request of the producer, George Alexander, who believed the four acts too long, Wilde reworked Acts II and III, condensing them into a new Act II [see below no. 20]. …

The present typescript is, therefore, the only complete text of the four-act original known other than the autograph draft, and the only typescript to present the text of Act II as originally written. …

Wilde’s additions, deletions and corrections are heaviest in Act I, where a total of about 10 pages of typescript are crossed out in pencil, and about 4 pages of dialogue added, mostly in pencil on facing blank versos. All the deleted material is quite legible, and includes several amusing scenes studded with fine witticisms and epigrams … The entire page preceding the curtain drop at the end of the act is crossed out

Act II is somewhat less extensively re-worked: Wilde’s deletions total about 5 pages typescript and his pencilled additions about 11/2 pages; many small changes are made in wording throughout. Comparison of the first draft holograph to the present typescript shows that the act survived through the lost September typescript with few substantive alterations; …

Act III shows only slight revisions by Wilde; his deletions, totaling about 2 pages and handwritten interpolations of about 11/2 pages, occur mostly at the beginning. …

Only a few, mostly trifling, authorial changes appear in the Act IV typescript, which is similar, but fuller and more evenly paced than the final act of the published play. …

provenance:

1. Clarence S. Bement, bookplate

2. John R. Stetson Jr., bookplate loosely inserted (sale, Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920, lot 128)

3. Sale, AAA, April 18, 1923, lot 988 [“Books – Manuscripts – Drawings of Superlative Importance Acquired by or for a Noted Philadelphia Collector“, American Art Association, New York, April 16-18, 1923]

4. James F. Drake, 1930, purchased by Mrs Sherburne [Marjorie Wiggin] Prescott“

[sold for $90,000, see Christie’s’ price-list]

[facsimile of typewritten page no. 17, Act I (see 1899 edition, pp. 23-4), see sale catalogue, p. [196]]

“… $90,000 was paid by Fleming for a heavily corrected typescript of The Importance of Being Earnest.“
(
The Book Collector, vol. 30, no. 2, Summer 1981, p. 237)

Marjorie Wiggin Prescott

“purchased by Mrs Sherburne [Marjorie Wiggin] Prescott“
(Christie’s, Feb. 6, 1981, p. 199)

James F. Drake

between ?1924 and 1930

Catalogue of Autograph Letters & MSS –  James McNeill Whistler … & Others, George Grasberger, Inc., Philadelphia [1924], item 119

“The Author’s Original Manuscript of his play, “The Importance of Being Earnest“; consisting of about 27,000 words, typewritten on 116 quarto leaves, with over 1800 additional words of new matter, corrections, etc., in Wilde’s Handwriting. Four Acts, each bound separately in brown paper wrappers, and enclosed in a full blue straight-grain morocco case. (1894.) $575.00 

This, the first draft of the play, is entitled, ‘Lady Lancing’, which – following Wilde’s usual custom – was typed under a different name than the intended title. It is written in four acts, which in the final version was cut to three; the second and third being compressed into one, and the first act materially shortened. The Length and Numerous Corrections, showing the Evolution of this Literary Gem make it a particularly interesting item.“

George J. C. Grasberger

Books – Manuscripts – Drawings of Superlative Importance Acquired by or for a Noted Philadelphia Collector, American Art Association, New York, April 16-18, 1923, lot 988

i.e. “Mr Hughes“
(
The Bookman’s Journal and Print Collector, vol. VIII, June 1923, p. 99)

Author’s Typewritten Copy of his play, ‘Lady Lancing,’ afterwards entitled, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ Manuscript of about 27,000 words, typewritten on 116 quarto leaves, with over Eighteen Hundred Additional Words in the Autograph of Oscar Wilde. Four acts, each act bound separately in brown wrappers and stamped, – ‘Mrs. Marshall’s Type Writing Office 3(-25) Oct. 94. 126, Strand,’ on front wrappers and half-titles. Enclosed in full sapphire-blue straight-grain morocco solander case, gilt fillet borders, back gilt tooled au pointillé, with inner silk protecting wrapper.  [1894]

An Early Draft of This Play, which – following Wilde’s usual custom – was typed under a different name from the intended title. It is written in four acts, which were in later versions cut to three, the second and third being compressed into one and the first act materially in shortened form, … 

The names of the characters are somewhat different from those in the finished play, …

An Interesting Manuscript, containing an Unusually Large Number of Additions and Alterations in Wilde’s Autograph, many of which have been again cancelled by him and are not found in the later manuscript version.

From the C. S. Bement – John B. Stetson, Jr., collections, with bookplate of each.“

“Typed MS., Play, ‘Lady Lancing,’ afterwards ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ 27,000 words, typed on 116 4to leaves, with over 1800 additional words in autograph of Wilde. 4 acts, bnd. separately in wrappers, in silk folder and mor. case. From Bement-Stetson collections. [1894] G., April 16, ’23 (988) $425.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXIX, 1923, p. 915)

Colonel H. D. Hughes

sold to Hughes, Sept. 18, 1920
(see The Rosenbach, personal correspondence, Jan. 21, 2022)

“For $5700, in September [1920], he [Rosenbach] turned over to Colonel Hughes the richest lot of Wilde manuscripts ever sold, the originals of The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, and An Ideal Husband, which he had bought for stock.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

“Many of these items [of the Stetson sale] – fifty-one of Rosenbach’s purchases at the auction, in fact – were destined for Colonel H. D. Hughes, as is clear from the extensive listing in Rosenbach’s sales records. … Hughes, a collector for Pennsylvania, curiously paid off his sizable balance primarily through daily installments of $100.00.“
(Mitchell and Haas, see https://bit.ly/3xpXd8k)

A.S.W. Rosenbach

purchased for $500 

“At the sale of the Stetson collection of Oscar Wilde at the end of April, 1920, Dr. Rosenbach swept the board almost clean, taking virtually every item of real importance. He had been a Wilde enthusiast since his college days, when it was avant-garde to be mauve. His enthusiasm had been shared by Colonel H. D. Hughes of Philadelphia, who spent over $10,000 at the sale, wisely entrusting his bids to the Doctor.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920, lot 128

“THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Author’s Typewritten copy of ‘Lady Lancing,’ afterwards changed to ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ The Four Acts bound separately, enclosed in silk cover, and preserved in a full blue straight-grain morocco solander case, back handsomely tooled in pointillé.

With manuscript corrections by the author, many passages being deleted, and whole paragraphs and dialogues added. With bookplate of Clarence S. Bement.“

“Author’s MS., typed, of Lady Lancing, afterwards changed to The Importance of Being Earnest. The 4 Acts bound separately in silk cover, in mor. case. (Bookplate of Clarence S. Bement.) Stetson, A. April 23, ’20. (128) $500.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXVI, 1920, p. 1040)

John B. Stetson,, Jr.

?A.S.W. Rosenbach

Clarence S. Bement

bookplate

?Robert Ross

“Both Bernent and Stetson were frequent visitors to England. It seems reasonable to suppose that they made purchases for their libraries on these occasions and that these rare typescripts were obtained from Robert Ross, before 1909, when the latter, having restored Wilde’s estate to solvency, presented a number of the author’s manuscripts and typescripts to the British Museum.“
(Dickson (ed.),
The Importance of Being Earnest, p. xiv)

11. Typewritten Manuscript

unknown

“… the existence of a no-longer-extant typescript based on the annotated 3 [i.e. 8] October typescript [see no. 10], which Wilde then further annotated and returned to  Mrs Marshall so as to become the copy-text for the final typescript of 31 October.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 121)

12. Typewritten Manuscript
(“Lady Lancing – A Serious Comedy for Trivial People“)

4 Acts

Act I
– 28 pages

Act II
– 27 pages

Act III
– 25 pages

Act IV
– 22 pages

31 October 1894

unknown

?Harvard Theatre Collection
Houghton Library
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

George Alexander’s copy [Oct. 1895-version, see also Charles Frohman’s copy, no. 13]

… as you wished to see my somewhat farcical comedy, I send you the first copy of it. It is called Lady Lancing on the cover: but the real title is The Importance of Being Earnest.“
(letter to George Alexander, c. 25 October 1894,
Complete Letters, p. 620) [most likely 31 October, see Donohue, Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 33n]

13. Typewritten Manuscript
(“Lady Lancing – A Serious Comedy for Trivial People“)

4 Acts (in 3 volumes)

Act I
– 28 pages

Act II
– 27 pages

Act III
– 25 pages

Act IV
– 22 pages

31 October 1894

Billy Rose Theatre Division
Performing Arts Library
New York Public Library, New York, NY

NCOF+ (Wilde, O. Lady Lancing)

digital copy:
https://on.nypl.org/318shIp

1953

“1 v (various pagings) 27 cm. Promptbook, typewritten.

[London] Mrs. Marshall’s Type Writing Office, 1894

Typescript.

Earlier version (Oct. 1894) of The importance of being earnest, produced by Charles Frohman at the Empire Theatre, New York, 22 Apr., 1895.“

On title page handwritten (not in Wilde’s hand): “Earlier version of The Importance of Being Earnest produced by Charles Frohman at the Empire Theatre, N.Y., 22 April 1895.“

Each volume stamped “From Charles Frohman, Empire Theatre Building, Broadway & 40th St., New York“

Each act stamped “Mrs Marshall’s Type Writing Office, 126, Strand, 31 Oct 94“

Clean typewritten manuscript. No corrections, additions, notes 

[see also George Alexander’s copy, no. 12]

Lady Lancing (…). 31 October 1894. Burnside-Frohman Collection [today Billy Rose Theatre Division], Performing Arts Library, New York Public Library. Typescript, four acts, unannotated, except for occasional small-scale correction of typographical errors and the deletion of one phrase by the author in ink. Date stamped by Mrs Marshall’s agency, along with her stamp. Completed in London. Edition Copy text.

The latter and more advanced of the two surviving complete four-act texts. Sent to Charles Frohman in New York. Not produced.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 173)

“But here was the four-act play, polished by Wilde. ready for production, untouched by Alexander, just as Wilde originally wrote it.“
(Ruth Berggren in https://bit.ly/362LYVs [p. 8])

“Mrs Marshall’s Typing Office prepared two copies of the play, one for the New York producer Charles Frohman. and one for George Alexander of the St James’s Theatre … .“
(ibid.)

“… stamped with The New York Public Library acquisition number 53 x 300, the three hundredth addition made to the holdings in 1953.“
(
Bulletin of the NYPL, vol. 75, 1971, p. 379)

“The New York Public Library acquired the papers in 1953, but the box containing the Oct. 31 ‘Earnest’ was not opened until 1967. No one realized the vital importance of the Oct. 31 ‘Earnest’ until Dr. Berggren read it in 1977.“
(
The New York Times, Nov. 18, 1985, p. 53)

“It wasn’t until 1968 that anyone knew about the Frohman’s copies of Earnest. And even then, no one knew just what place one of the typescripts held in the history of the play.“
(Ruth Berggren in https://bit.ly/362LYVs [p. 7])

R.H.Burnside

“In 1935, Dillingham was on the verge of bankruptcy. In order to hide valuable theatre materials from his creditors, he gave them to a friend for safekeeping. Dillingham died shortly after the bankruptcy, leaving his friend, R.H. Burnside, with an attic full of papers, props, and costumes [among them Frohman’s four-act typescript]. Shortly before Burnside’s death in 1953, the New York Public Library gained access to the materials and rescued them just a months before the schedule demolition of Burnside’s New Jersey home.“
(Berggren,
The Definitive Four-Act Version, pp. 35-6)

Charles Dillingham

“When Frohman went down on the Lusitania in 1915, his associate Charles Dillingham acquired his collection of playscripts.“
(ibid., p. 35)

Charles Frohman

“When the play was cut. Wilde sent the three-act version to Charles Frohman in New York. (The New York production closed after one week. because of the scandal connected with Wilde’s trial.) Frohman put the four-act typescript on his shelf and forgot about it.“
(Ruth Berggren in https://bit.ly/362LYVs [p. 7])

14. Typewritten Manuscript
(“Lady Lancing“)

Act I
– 29 pages – together with Acts III and IV
[dated 14 Sept. 1894, see above no. 9]

1 November 1894

George Arents Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

Arents S 1534 no. 2

no digital copy

“Typescript, with stamps of Mrs. Marshall’s Type-writing Office, London; 1 Nov. 94 (Act I) and 19 Sep. 94 (Acts III-IV) [see above no. 9]

Comprises Acts I, III and IV of the original four-act version of the importance of being earnest. …

With author’s ms. emendations, deletions, etc., in the Text and on facing blank pages.

Revised three-act version published under the title The importance of being earnest, London 1899.“

Lady Lancing (…). 1 November 1894. Arents Collection, New York Public Library. Typescript, annotated. Act I only, the presumed sole survivor of a complete four-act typescript. Date stamped by Mrs Marshall’ agency, along with her stamp. Completed in London, prepared by the Marshall agency, and almost identical in its unannotated state to [see no. 9] … Collotype-facsimile published in Dickson, Volume II.

The full four-act typescript, prepared presumably for Wilde’s personal use; may have been read to the St. James’s cast at the first rehearsal, as was the custom. Extensively annotated, very likely while Wilde was participating in the early days of rehearsal before Alexander sent him away, to return a few days before opening night.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 173)

“.. the 1 November 1894 typescript in the Arents Collection is the first act of the final typescript of Lady Lancing that Wilde took into rehearsal with him.“
(Donohue,
Wilde’s Earnest, ch. 12)

“Comparing Wilde’s annotations of the 1 November typescript with the putative script of opening night indicates that some though not all of these annotations were indeed incorporated into Alexander’s script, enough to conclude that Wilde’s presence during the early days of rehearsal constituted a decisive influence on the text of opening night.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 613)

“Out of the twenty-seven pages of manuscript that makes up Arents Act I, sixteen show three changes or fewer on each page. Seven pages show only one change per page. And on three pages there are no changes at all.“
(Glavin, p. 23n5)

“Considerably shortened from the first version, and corrected by the author. The piano-playing incident inserted at the beginning in the author’s hand. Names of the characters as in the original version, with Gribsby as the name of the solicitor.“
(Dickson (ed.),
The Importance of Being Earnest, p. XVII)

Collection of Paul Hyde Bonner: First Editions and Manuscripts of Outstanding Importance, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, Feb. 15-16, 1934, lot 279

Typewritten manuscript of ‘Lady Lancing’ [the original title of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’], Act I, written on 29 pp., 4to, with autograph manuscript corrections and emendations in pencil amounting to about 600 words. 4to, in the original brown paper wrappers, wire-stitched, In a full blue levant morocco solander case, with inner cloth folder.

Typewritten Manuscript of an early version of the first Act of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, written under its original titleLady Lancing’, with autograph corrections and emendations by Wilde amounting to about 600 words. Of the remaining acts of this version, Act II appears not to be recorded, and Acts III and IV are in the British Museum. Act III was eventually combined with Act II. Apparently this is the only portion of the manuscript of this early form of the play available to collectors.

From the John B. Stetson collection.“

“Typed MS. of ‘Lady Lancing’ [orig. title of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’], Act I, 29 pp., 4to, with autograph corrections in pencil amounting to about 600 words. Wire stitched, in orig. brown paper; in cl. folder and lev. mor. case (from John B. Stetson, collection). SS (279) $160.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XL, 1935, pp. 656/7)

Sale Catalogue of the Private Library of Paul Hyde Bonner, Duttons, Inc., New York, 1931, item 815

“Original Typescript of ‘Lady Lancing’ Act I, With Autograph Corrections.

The Importance of Being Earnest. Act I. typescript. 4to, brown cloth binder. In full blue solander case with cloth wrapper. $1500.

original typescript under its original title, ‘Lady Lancing.’ Consisting of about 6000 words, typewritten on 28 quarto leaves, with over 600 additional words, chiefly in pencil, in the autograph of Wilde.

This is a very early draft of the play. Of the remaining acts of this version, Act II is not recorded, and Acts III and IV are in the British Museum. (Acts II and III were later compressed into Act II.) As far as we can establish, this is the only portion of the manuscript in this rare form for sale.“ 

[facsimile of page 19, facing page 127: see https://bit.ly/2ODRxT5]

Paul Hyde Bonner

bookplate

Books – Manuscripts – Drawings of Superlative Importance Acquired by or for a Noted Philadelphia Collector, American Art Association, New York, April 16-18, 1923, lot 989

i.e. “Mr Hughes“
(
The Bookman’s Journal and Print Collector, vol. VIII, June 1923, p. 99)

Author’s Typewritten Copy of Act I of his play, ‘Lady Lancing,’ afterwards entitled, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ Manuscript of about 6,000 words, typewritten on 28 quarto leaves, with over Six Hundred Additional Words in the Autograph of Oscar Wilde. Brown wrappers, with stamp, – ‘Mrs. Marshall’s Type Writing Office 1 Nov. 94. 126, Strand,’ on front cover and half-title. Enclosed in full Gobelin blue levant morocco solander case, gilt back, with inner cloth protecting wrapper, by h. zucker  [1894]

A Revised Version of Act I, including most of the alterations indicated in the previous item [see no. 10], although several of the additions which were inserted in manuscript in the preceding have again be deleted in the present version. The list of characters is the same as the corrected list in the preceding, excepting that ‘Mr. Worthing’s’ butler is named “Marriman [sic].“ The play was still in four acts at this writing, as shown by the synopsis of the scenes on first page.

From the John Stetson, Jr., collection, with his bookplate.“

Colonel H. D. Hughes

sold to Hughes, Sept. 18, 1920
(see The Rosenbach, personal correspondence, Jan. 21, 2022)

“For $5700, in September [1920], he [Rosenbach] turned over to Colonel Hughes the richest lot of Wilde manuscripts ever sold, the originals of The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, and An Ideal Husband, which he had bought for stock.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

“Many of these items [of the Stetson sale] – fifty-one of Rosenbach’s purchases at the auction, in fact – were destined for Colonel H. D. Hughes, as is clear from the extensive listing in Rosenbach’s sales records. … Hughes, a collector for Pennsylvania, curiously paid off his sizable balance primarily through daily installments of $100.00.“
(Mitchell and Haas, see https://bit.ly/3xpXd8k)

A.S.W. Rosenbach

purchased for $155

“At the sale of the Stetson collection of Oscar Wilde at the end of April, 1920, Dr. Rosenbach swept the board almost clean, taking virtually every item of real importance. He had been a Wilde enthusiast since his college days, when it was avant-garde to be mauve. His enthusiasm had been shared by Colonel H. D. Hughes of Philadelphia, who spent over $10,000 at the sale, wisely entrusting his bids to the Doctor.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920, lot 127

“The Importance of Being Earnest. Author’s Typewritten Copy of ‘Lady Lancing,’ afterwards changed to ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ Act One only. Preserved in a full light blue levant morocco solander case.

A very early copy, with numerous manuscript corrections by the author.“

[sold for $155, see handwritten note in sale catalogue]

John B. Stetson, Jr.

?Robert Ross

“Both Bernent and Stetson were frequent visitors to England. It seems reasonable to suppose that they made purchases for their libraries on these occasions and that these rare typescripts were obtained from Robert Ross, before 1909, when the latter, having restored Wilde’s estate to solvency, presented a number of the author’s manuscripts and typescripts to the British Museum.“
(Dickson (ed.),
The Importance of Being Earnest, p. xiv)

15. Typewritten Manuscript
(“Lady Lancing“)

Acts II, III, IV

[c. November 1894]

unknown

[belonging to no. 14]

[possibly the typescripts used in the first German translation (see below no. 28), see Dickson (ed.), The Importance of Being Earnest, p. xvii and p. xviii]

16. ?Typewritten Manuscript

Ada Leverson

unknown

“Come tonight to the theatre 7.45 dress rehearsal without scenery. Will send you manuscript. …“
(telegram from Oscar Wilde to Ada Leverson, 12 February, 1895,
Complete Letters, p. 631)

The Importance of Being Earnest, 3 Acts

17. Typewritten Manuscript
(“The Importance of Being Earnest“)

3-Act-Version

200 leaves / two typescripts

[1895]

Billy Rose Theatre Collection
Performing Arts Library
New York Public Library, New York, NY

NCOF+00-2022

no digital copy

microfilm copy: ZC-570

1953

Gift: Burnside-Frohman Collection

“1 volume (200 leaves); 28 cm.

Two typescripts on carbon paper bound together in one volume were used for the New York production that opened at the Empire Theatre on April 22, 1895. Both include revisions in pencil and staging directions underlined in red. The second script is stamped ‘latest correct copy’.“

“THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. Stamped ‘LATEST CORRECT COPY,’ ‘Z and L ROSENFIELD’ [typists], and ‘FROM CHARLES FROHMAN.’ Promptbook. Lincoln Center.“
(see Donohue and Berggren, p. 20)

“A single volume of 200 leaves, comprising two typescripts prepared on tissue paper, bound together, used originally for the New York production that opened at Frohman’s Empire Theatre on 22 April 1895. Both are annotated with revisions in pencil; staging directions are underlined in red. The second typescript is stamped ‘latest correct copy’. This second script is a ribbon copy; the first is a carbon copy of the second. … the text of 00.2022 is identical to that of 00-2021 [no. 19] and to the Arents typescript [no. 18].

This second typescript, a promptbook, embodies a detailed record of what was performed on stage for the Frohman first production in April 1895. The first typescript, a carbon copy, contains only warns. The second typescript was also used, at least as a reference copy, for the Frohman revival of 1902 as well.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 753)

“… very likely if not certainly, the copy-text for the Arents-Frohman script [see no. 18].“
(ibid., p. 754)

Charles Frohman

18. Typewritten Manuscript
(“The Importance of Being Earnest – A Serious Comedy for Trivial People“)

3-Act-Version

[1895]

George Arents Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

Arents S 1534 (Arents-Frohman typescript)

no digital copy

[1988]

??? [not catalogued in the online catalogue]

“‘THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST’: A SERIOUS COMEDY FOR TRIVIAL PEOPLE BY OSCAR WILDE. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. Printed seal, Rosenfield STENOGRAPHY AND TYPEWRITING / 49 WEST 26th ST / 27 PINE ST / NEW YORK CITY’, pasted on blank leaf at end. Stamped ‘FROM CHARLES FROHMAN, / EMPIRE THEATRE BUILDING, / BROADWAY & 40th ST, / NEW YORK’. Arents. (Arents-Frohman [AF])“
(see Donohue and Berggren, p. 20)

“Prepared from another Rosenfield copy [no. 17] of a typescript sent to Frohman by George Alexander, probably sometime in late March 1895, pursuant to an agreement between the two in which Frohman purchased from Alexander the American production rights to Wilde’s play.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, pp. 751-2)

“This typescript, preserved in Frohman’s customary elegant red leather binding, now in the Arents Collection, New York Public Library … “
(ibid., p. 752)

“Among the close kindred of New York Public Library typescripts identified here, as an unmarked ribbon copy but the product of other scripts generated during rehearsals at the St. James’s, it comes closest of all surviving texts to representing the state of the text in mid-March [of 1895|, about a month into the run at the St. James’s … the closest descendant of the licensing copy. … it represents the play as St. James’s audiences were actually experiencing it.“
(ibid.)

Glenn Horowitz’s catalogue 15 [April 1988], item 280

“The Arents Frohman typescript, which came to light only in April 1988 (advertised for sale in Glenn Horowitz’s catalogue 15 [1988]), is an extremely important document, for it provides a crucial link between the licensing copy and two other three-act texts already available, all of which relate unambiguously to Alexander’s first production of Wilde’s play.“
(Donohue and Berggren, p. 74)

“… Dr. [Jeanne T.] Newlin [curator, Harvard Theatre Collection] … saw the Charles Frohman typescript of The Importance of Being Earnest advertised in a dealer’s catalogue in April 1988 …“
(ibid., p. 14)

Glenn Horowitz

Charles Frohman

“When the play was cut. Wilde sent the three-act version to Charles Frohman in New York. (The New York production closed after one week. because of the scandal connected with Wilde’s trial.) Frohman put the four-act typescript on his shelf and forgot about it.“
(Ruth Berggren in https://bit.ly/362LYVs [p. 7])

19. Typewritten Manuscript
(“The Importance of Being Earnest“)

3-Act-Version

105 leaves

[1895]

Billy Rose Theatre Collection
Performing Arts Library
New York Public Library, New York, NY

NCOF+00-2021

no digital copy

microfilm copy: ZC-569

1953

Gift: Burnside-Frohman Collection

“1 volume (105 leaves); 28 cm.

Clean typescript with staging directions underlined in red was used for the London production that opened at St. James’s Theatre on February 14, 1895.“

“A single volume of 105 leaves, a clean typescript with staging directions underlined in red. On the title page below the author’s name is endorsed in ink, ‘Produced at St. James’s Theatre, London, 14 Feb., 1895’. This typescript is not identified with any typist’s stamp, but the house style is so nearly identical to that of the Arents-Frohman typescript [see no. 18], which bears the Rosenfield seal on the last page, that we may reasonably conclude that this script also was  prepared by the Rosenfield office.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 754)

Charles Frohman

20. Typewritten Manuscript
(“The Importance of Being Earnest“)

3-Act-Version

78 pages 

Act I
– 27 pages

Act II
– 33 pages

Act III
– 18 pages

n.d. [probably January 1895]

Harvard Theatre Collection
Houghton Library
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

MS Thr 574

digital microfilm copy:
https://bit.ly/31dOMvr

purchased with the Frank E. Chase bequest, Sept. 1943

“The importance of being Earnest. A serious comedy for trivial people: typescript, 1895

1 volume (.1 linear ft.)

Original typescript with manuscript annotations, used by Sir George Alexander for the production of the play at the St. James’ Theatre, London in 1895.

Includes bookplate of George Alexander.“

“The Importance of Being Earnest. A Serious Comedy for Trivial People By Oscar Wilde. Acts separately paginated. Stamped ‘Miss Dickens’s Type Writing Office / 3, Tavistock Street, / Wellington Street, / Strand, W.C.’ in front matter and on verso opposite Act II and Act III. Bookplate of George Alexander on flyleaf.“
(see Donohue and Berggren, p. 20)

Autograph note on manuscript:
“F. E. Chase Fund / Sept. 1943“

Autograph note:
“The original typescript / used by Sir George Alexander / for the production of the play at the St. James’s / Theatre, London, in 1895. / W.V.L. [
William Van Lennep, curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection from 1947-1960]“

Autograph note:
“George Alexander –  Private copy. If found please / return to St. James’s Theatre, SW“

Bookplate of George Alexander

Each act is stamped on the verso of the title page and at the beginning and at the end of each act: “Miss Dickens’s Type Writing Office, 3, Tavistock Street, Wellington Street, Strand, W.C.“

Notes, deletions, additions in the hand of George Alexander throughout

Last page (inserted at the end of the typescript): 

G. Michelmore & Co., 5 Royal Opera Arcade, Pall Mall, London S. W. / 16.8.1943. / with compliments

“This is not the prompt book of the first production – there are none of the calls and cues that would indicate its having been used by the prompter or stage-manager … .“
(Jackson,
Earnest, 1980,  p. xliii)

“There appear to be at least three, possibly four separate hands in evidence in the Harvard-Dickens annotations.“
(Donohue and Berggren, p. 89)

“… annotated by multiple hands and of uncertain closeness to the production.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 653)

“… the unannotated Harvard-Dickens typescript … could have been typed by Miss Dickens’s office some time during the run of the first production, between February and May 1895. This is an attractive hypothesis; yet the possibility that it was prepared after 1900 cannot be entirely ruled out.“
(Donohue and Berggren, p. 88)

“Another typescript prepared by Ethel Dickens for George Alexander, generated during the first run of The Importance of Being Earnest, then kept by him as a prime house text for continued use over several years. Heavily annotated for various purposes, Records, as part of the typescript, stage directions that capture a production of the play, augmented by annotations (some of them in Alexanders hand) that record another, later staging; another hand records a meticulous collation of the text of the play with the 1899 first edition. This much-used typescript might possibly have been used by Alexander as late as the 1909-10 revival … .“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 755)

“… when in May 1898 Alexander was asked to provide a typescript of his house text for Wilde to annotate with a view toward publication by Leonard Smithers, Alexander designated a text that proved to be an extremely close copy of the Harvard-Dickens as the most appropriate one to use. The fact is clear because the text of the resulting typescript, prepared by Alexander’s secretary, Winifred Dolan [see no. 21], is almost though not quite identical to the text of the Harvard-Dickens unannotated script … .“
(ibid
.)

?Frank E. Chase

G. Michelmore & Co.

Collection of Paul Hyde Bonner: First Editions and Manuscripts of Outstanding Importance, American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, New York, Feb. 15-16, 1934, lot 281

Typewritten manuscript of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, written on 78 pp., 4to, with numerous autograph corrections and interpolations throughout. Bound in one volume, 4to, full tan polished calf, gilt tooled back, triple gilt fillet border on the sides, gilt inside borders, gilt top, uncut, by Riviere.“

 “Typewritten manuscript of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, with numerous autograph corrections and interpolations throughout, Amounting to over 1,800 words and hundreds of changes in punctuation. The characters and stage instructions are underlined throughout in red.“

“Typed MS. of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ 78 pp., 4to; autograph corrections and interpolations throughout; characters and stage instructions underlined throughout in red. Bound, 4to,, tooled cf., g.t., unc., by Riviere. SS (281) $320.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XL, 1935, pp. 656)

Paul Hyde Bonner

Sale Catalogue of the Private Library of Paul Hyde Bonner, Duttons, Inc., New York, 1931, item 816

The Importance of Being Earnest. Author’s typewritten copy with MS. corrections. Small 4to, bound in full tan calf, t.e.g., by Rivière. [n.d.] $700.00.“

[not clear if the manuscript described here belongs to no. 20 or to no. 21]

Paul Hyde Bonner

George Alexander

bookplate

21. Typewritten Manuscript
(“The Importance of Being Earnest: A Serious Comedy for Trivial People.“)

3-Act-Version

Act I
– 25 pages

Act II
– 32 pages

Act III
– 17 pages

[May – early June 1898]

George Arents Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

Arents S 1534 no. 4

no digital copy

acquired by the library in 1956

“Typed by Miss Winifred Dolan, 1 Hurlingham Mansions, Fulham. S.W.

Published under the title The importance of being earnest; a trivial comedy for serious people. London, 1899.

With author’s ms. emendations, deletions, etc., in text and on facing blank pages.

Provenance: J. B. Stetson, Jr; Paul Hyde Bonner (bookplate); De Coppet.“

“The publisher Leonard Smithers sent Wilde a typed copy of the text owned by Alexander to use as the basis for the first published edition …“
(Jackson,
Earnest, 2015, p. xxviii)

“Wilde evidently got his wish for a clear, well-prepared script on substantial paper, typed on one side only, leaving him space on the blank verso of every leaf for additional annotations.“
(Donohue,
Compete Works, vol. X, p. 756)

“… some of the funniest and wittiest lines and passages of the play were invented while Wilde resided, alone and hungry, in the dingy Hotel d’Alsace in Paris, or on a sojourn in Nogent-sur-Marne, frequently begging Smithers to send him a few pounds so that he could eat, or, alternatively, urging him to take the next step in the process of publishing editions of works that now spelled means of his very survival.“
(ibid., pp. 756-7)

“Fortunately, as he proceeded to annotate the Dolan typescript, his extraordinarily retentive memory enabled him to resurrect lines and passages that he had inserted in his four-act typescript before rehearsals started or that had emerged in the early rehearsals he had attended, most of which he evidently still carried in his head.“
(ibid., p. 644)

“The Dolan typescript establishes a crucial link between the text of the first production of 1895 and the first edition of 1899.“
(Donohue and Berggren, p. 75)

“The Arents-Dolan text stand unassailable as the basis for the Smithers first edition. One can follow the consistent course of revision, from Wilde’s annotations and other changes (…), through the galley proof [see no. 23] and its correction by Wilde, to the first edition itself.“
(ibid., p. 76)

“… in its unannotated state it is nearly identical, in both speeches and stage directions, to the Harvard-Dickens typescript – though not … so close that the Harvard-Dickens can be presupposed to be the copy-text from which the Dolan typescript derives, or conversely.“
(ibid.)

“Although Winifred Dolan’s typescript maintains the old order of ‘Trivial … Serious …,’ in revising it for publication by Smithers Wilde changed the subtitle to conform to the text of the first production program.“
(ibid, p. 96)

“In revising the Dolan typescript Wilde obliterated this name as author, instructing the publisher Leonard Smithers that ‘the title page I suppose had better have “By the author of Lady Windermere’s Fan“’.“
(ibid.)

[see An Ideal Husband, Lewis Collection, Texan Christian University

B. F. Stevens

“It may be presumed that Stevens was acting on behalf of the Arents Collection or was agreeable to selling it to the collection.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 51n)

Catalogue of the André de Coppet Collection, Part VI, Sotheby’s, London, 28-29 May 1956, lot 1746

The Importance of Being Earnest. Typescript of the entire play, with extensive revisions and additions in the author’s hand, bookplate of Paul Hyde Bonner, calf gilt, g.t. , by Riviere, 4to

This draft shows Wilde at work on his masterpiece, and affords a fascinating insight into the evolution of the text. In revising this volume, Wilde added to the play  for the first time many of its most celebrated and delightful lines, while he also polished many others into their final and familiar shape, transforming them often with wonderful effect by the addition of a phrase or the change of a word. The added passages themselves contain some currente calamo revisions, showing that Wilde was composing as he wrote them: they include, for example, Lady Bracknell’s immortal remarks on the French and German languages in Act I, and the dialogue in Act II containing Miss Prism’s definition of Fiction.

The present draft is an acting typescript, revised by the author for publication; this is shown by the technical nature of the stage directions, which Wilde has largely re-written, removing the technicalities and adding expressive detail. The volume also represents what is probably the penultimate stage in the revision of the play, for though the revised version still differs occasionally from the printed text, such changes as remained to be made were probably introduced in the proof.“

sold to B. F. Stevens for £560
(see Sotheby’s price-list)

“The highest price yesterday was the £560 given for the typescript, with extensive alterations in the author’s hand, of The Importance of Being Earnest.“
(
The Times, 30 May 1956, p. 12)

André De Coppet

?bookplate

Sale Catalogue of the Private Library of Paul Hyde Bonner, Duttons, Inc., New York, 1931, item 816

The Importance of Being Earnest. Author’s typewritten copy with MS. corrections. Small 4to, bound in full tan calf, t.e.g., by Rivière. [n.d.] $700.00.“

[not clear if the manuscript described here belongs to no. 20 or to no. 21]

Paul Hyde Bonner

bookplate

J. B. Stetson, Jr.

not in The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920

?Robert Ross

22. Typewritten Manuscript

3-Act-Version

74 leaves (plus c. 16,000 additional words in Wilde’s autograph)

[1895]

unknown

“… presumably the typescript referred to by Wilde himself, May 24, 1898, in his letter to Smithers, which he wishes Alexander to send to the publisher and which he wishes to correct.. [see Complete Letters, p. 1072].“
(Dickson (ed.),
The Importance of Being Earnest, p. xix)

“Typescript sold as lot 126 in the Stetson sale (April 23, 1920); resold, AAA, April 18, 1923, lot 990, present whereabouts unknown.“
(see
Prescott Collection, Christie’s, 1981, p. 197)

Books, Manuscripts, and Drawings of Superlative Importance acquired by or for a Noted Philadelphia Collector, American Art Association, New York, April 16-18, 1923, lot 990

i.e. “Mr Hughes“
(
The Bookman’s Journal and Print Collector, vol. VIII, June 1923, p. 99)

Author’s Typewritten Copy of his play, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest, a Serious Comedy for Trivial People.’ Manuscript of about 17,000 words, typewritten on 74 quarto leaves, with about Sixteen Hundred Additional Words in the Autograph of Oscar Wilde. 4to, full light polished calf, gilt sides, back and inside dengele borders, gilt edges, by rivière.

A later and completely revised version of this play, the acts cut to three and otherwise materially shortened, several of the characters being cut out, ‘Algernon’s’ surname changed to ‘Moncrieff’ and his aunt’s name changed from ‘Lady Brancaster’ to ‘Lady Bracknell.’

With Many Manuscript Corrections and Additions in Wilde’s Autograph, and with these alterations agreeing closely with the printed version. … .

From the John B. Stetson, Jr., collection, with his bookplate.“

Colonel H. D. Hughes

sold to Hughes, Sept. 18, 1920
(see The Rosenbach, personal correspondence, Jan. 21, 2022)

“For $5700, in September [1920], he [Rosenbach] turned over to Colonel Hughes the richest lot of Wilde manuscripts ever sold, the originals of The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest, and An Ideal Husband, which he had bought for stock.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

“Many of these items [of the Stetson sale] – fifty-one of Rosenbach’s purchases at the auction, in fact – were destined for Colonel H. D. Hughes, as is clear from the extensive listing in Rosenbach’s sales records. … Hughes, a collector for Pennsylvania, curiously paid off his sizable balance primarily through daily installments of $100.00.“
(Mitchell and Haas, see https://bit.ly/3xpXd8k)

A.S.W. Rosenbach

purchased for $220

“At the sale of the Stetson collection of Oscar Wilde at the end of April, 1920, Dr. Rosenbach swept the board almost clean, taking virtually every item of real importance. He had been a Wilde enthusiast since his college days, when it was avant-garde to be mauve. His enthusiasm had been shared by Colonel H. D. Hughes of Philadelphia, who spent over $10,000 at the sale, wisely entrusting his bids to the Doctor.“
(Wolf and Fleming, p. 135)

The Oscar Wilde Collection of John B. Stetson, Jr., Anderson Galleries, New York, April 23, 1920, lot 126

“THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Author’s typewritten copy of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ bound in full polished calf, gilt back, gilt top, by Rivière.

With manuscript corrections and additions by Wilde, practically agreeing, with corrections, with the printed version.“

“Author’s MS., typed, of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ Bound in cf., by Rivière. Stetson, A., April 23, ’20 (126) $220.00.“
(
American Book-Prices Current, vol. XXVI, 1920, p. 1040)

J. B. Stetson, Jr.

bookplate

Catalogue of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Walter M. Hill, no. 8, Chicago, Dec. 1902, item 374

Wilde. Author’s Copy. The Importance of being Earnest; the author’s own type written copy, full of important corrections and extensive alterations and additions in his handwriting, which additions were afterwards embodied in the editions as published, 4to, handsomely bound by Riviere in full polished calf extra, top edges gilt, circa, 1898, unique. $75.00.“

Walter Hill

?Leonard Smithers

23. Page Proofs 

160 pages

[Nov.-Dec. 1898]

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas, Austin, TX

MS-4515
Box 1, Folder 3

digital copy:
https://bit.ly/2VCDUGg

acquired with the second batch of T. E. Hanley’s collection in Nov. 1964

“Page proofs bound with revisions and layout notes, 160pp., 1898“

“Proof pages of The Importance of Being Earnest, subsequently bound in leather and the top edges of paper gilded, with many corrections by the author, marginal and interlinear, in ink. Additional marginal notes in pencil, initialed ‘L.S. (i.e. Leonard Smithers), and additional notes in ink, also signed ‘L.S.’ Printer’s identification on the verso of the title page and again at the bottom of the last page of text: Chiswick Press: – Charles Whittingham and Co. / Tooks Court, Chancery Lane, London’.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 757)

T. E. Hanley

“… the proofs are in the collection of T.E. Hanley.“
(
Dickson (ed.), The Importance of Being Earnest, p. xi

Hanley bought the proofs for $275 as indicated by Hanley’s code “ULE“ on image 6 top right corner to denote price paid for the item: U=2, L=7, E=5. Hanley used the code “Cumberland“ to denote the price.
(Harry Ransom Center, personal correspondence, 14 and 18 Sept. 2021)

[neither date nor auction or dealer given]

First Editions of English and American Authors. Library of Efrem Zimbalist, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, Nov. 15-16, 1939, lot 366

“Original page proofs of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ Bound in a small 4to full polished calf volume, gilt top, by Riviere. 1899.

The author’s own corrected page proofs, with many autograph corrections. With an A. L. s. (initials) by the author, 4 pp., 8vo. [Paris], n.d. To Leonard Smithers, his publisher. A fine letter regarding the present proofs, reading in part as follows: I return the proof. Will you kindly see if Chasuble is called Chasuble, or ‘Doctor Chasuble’ in Act II.? Of course the title in the head-line shd. be continued. Shannon will do the cover. If you don’t hear from Dexter (?) kindly ask one of your clerks to look up the Era for Feb. 1895 – about the 14th all the cast will be there . . . The original title was ‘The Importance of Being Earnest: a Trivial Comedy of Serious People’ . . . With the addressed portion of the envelope.

[sold for] USD 90“

[text from Rare Book Hub]

“Page Proof of The Importance … with ms. corrections (’40) $90“
(
American Book-Prices Current Index 1933 -1940, p. 638)

Efrem Zimbalist

Leonard Smithers

24. The Importance of Being Earnest, Book Edition, Smithers, London, 1899

copy of George Alexander, with his manuscript notes

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, CT

BEIN Ip W644 899im, copy 1

“The importance of being Earnest; a trivial comedy for serious people, by the author of Lady Windermere’s fan. London, L. Smithers, 1899.

8 p.l., 151, [1] p. 23 cm.

First ed., 1st issue.

One of an edition of 1000 copies.

No. 290; copy formerly in the possession of Sir George Alexander, owner of the copyright, with his book-plate and with numerous penciled changes and additions in his hand; from Garvan Collection on Ireland.“

“Alexander made efficient use of this copy with a view towards a St. James’s revival of Wilde’s play.

… it is evident from study of Alexander’s heavily marked copy of this first edition that his self imposed task was to prepare an updated script for production by collating the Smithers text against a St James’s house script – either the Harvard-Dickens typescript [no. 20] or, perhaps, a carbon copy of the Dolan typescript [no. 21]. (No such copy has been documented, but it seems highly likely that Alexander would have instructed Winifred Dolan to make such a copy, to be retained for his own further use.) A third possibility surfaces among the typescripts in the Frohman collection, a script prepared by Ethel Dickens [no. 25] that is very close to the text represented by Alexander’s annotated first edition.
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, pp. 674-5)

Garvan Collection

[donated to Yale University Library in 1929)

Francis P. Garvan

George Alexander

“Send one [copy] to George Alexander ‘with the compliments of the author and the publisher’.“
(letter from Oscar Wilde to Leonard Smithers, 18 Feb. 1899,
Complete Letters, p. 1124)

25. Typewritten Manuscript
(“The Importance of Being Earnest“)

3-Act-Version

Act I
–  26 pages

Act II
– 32 pages

Act III
– 15 pages

[1899/1901/1902] 

Billy Rose Theatre Collection
Performing Arts Library
New York Public Library, New York, NY

RM 4255

NCOF+ (Wilde, O. Importance of being earnest)

no digital copy

1953

Gift: Burnside-Frohman Collection

“The importance of being earnest: typescript. / 1 volume. / Scripts. / From Charles Frohman. Annotated typescript.“

“THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Typescript. Acts separately paginated. Stamped ‘MISS DICKENS’S TYPE-WRITING OFFICE / 3, TAVISTOCK STREET, COVENT GARDEN’ in Act II and Act III. Stamped ‘From Charles Frohman’. Typewritten legend ‘Duplicate carbon copy’ on verso facing dramatic personae. [This item is a ribbon copy; the typist may have dutiful replicated what was in fact an instruction.] Lincoln Center.“
(see Donohue and Berggren, p. 20)

“A text of English origin prepared by Miss Dickens’s Type Writing Office and marked ‘Duplicate Carbon Copy,’  this Frohman-Dickens script is heavily marked as a promptbook, with warnings and cues for entrances and effects and with lists of properties.“
(Donohue and Berggren, pp. 76-7)

“… the original Dickens typescript (no longer extant) of which the Frohman-Dickens is a copy …“
 (ibid., p. 78)

“As for the Frohman-Dickens typescript, it turns out to be Frohman’s prompt book for his 1902 revival (Empire Theatre, 22 April 1902), very likely made on a typescript prepared by Ethel Dickens using as copy-text Alexander’s extensively marked-up copy of the Smithers first edition [no. 24 ].“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 675)

Charles Frohman

26. The Importance of Being Earnest, Acting Edition, Samuel French, London, New York

71 pages

[?1900-1902]

digital copy:
https://bit.ly/2JlIDdM

“The Importance of Being Earnest / by Oscar Wilde / French’s Standard  Library Edition“

“A letter, conjecturally written in 1900, to Wilde from R. V. Shone, Alexander’s business manager at the St James’s, recommends that he accept Samuel French’s offer to publish an acting edition of The Importance of Being Earnest and another of Lady Windermere’s Fan {Dulau, 104 item 112). More specifically, on 20 March 1900 C. Aubrey Smith, representing Alexander, wrote to Wilde in Paris to enclose Samuel French’s proposal to publish acting editions of The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan and recommended he accept.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 676n)

27. Typewritten Manuscript
(“Lady Lancing / The Importance of Being Earnest“)

4 Acts

[?1894]

unknown

[Robert Ross sent this manuscript of four acts to the German publisher Max Spohr who had it translated by Hermann Freiherr von Teschenberg]

“Shortly after Wilde’s death, the original text of The Importance of Being Earnest, probably a typed copy of the manuscript, found its way to Germany and was published there, in a German translation, under the title Ernst Sein. [1903].“
(Hyde,
The Annotated Oscar Wilde, p. 266n) 

“… the German text was derived from a very late typescript and … some features of it were obviously taken from the three-act version published in 1899. (The most glaring one is the dedication to Robert Ross.)“
(Schroeder, “The First Editor …
“,  p. 8)

“… it stands to reason that he [Hermann Freiherr von Teschenberg, the German translator] got his copy directly from Robert Ross, who was doing all he could at the time to procure royalties from Germany to pay off Wilde’s debts and who must have regarded the translation of the four-act version as a welcome opportunity to bring in some extra money … .“
(ibid., p. 22)

“… a four-act text virtually identical to the text of the 31 October 1894 [no. 13] typescript sent to Charles Frohman …“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 41)

“… there are signs that Ross or the translator may have introduced features of the 1899 edition.“
(Jackson,
Earnest p. xliii)

“In fact, close scrutiny of the remarkable textual character of Teschenberg’s translation encourages the formation of what seems the only viable hypothesis: that Ross sent to his Austrian acquaintance an idiosyncratic amalgamation of two separat texts, a four-act text virtually identical to the text of the 31 October typescript sent to Charles Frohman [no. 13], but one extensively interspersed with choice words and passages culled from the 1899 first edition published by Leonard Smithers.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 41)

“In the following year [1957], Vyvyan Holland, Wilde’s son, published a version of the play, using the German translation as the basis for an attempted reconstruction of Wilde’s original intentions [The Original Four-Act Version of The importance of Being Earnest / Oscar Wilde; with an explanatory foreword by Vyvyan Holland, London, Methuen, 1957].“
(Berggren,
The Definitive Four-Act Version,  p. 35) 

Hermann Freiherr von Teschenberg / Max Spohr, 1903

Robert Ross

28. Reconstruction of Wilde’s Original Four-Act-Version (2 vols., Sarah Augusta Dickson (ed.), 1956)

Vol. 1
– transcript of autographs of Act I-II (Arents Collection), of Acts III-IV (British Library)

Vol. 2
collotype facsimiles of:
-Act I in typescript (1 Nov. 1894, Arents Collection)
– Act II
manuscript
– Act III
typescript (19 Sept. 1894)
– Act IV typescript (19 Sept. 1894)

George Arents Collection
New York Public Library, New York, NY

Arents S 1534 no. 3

no digital copy

“The importance of being earnest: a trivial comedy for serious people, in four acts, as originally written by Oscar Wilde.

New York: The New York Public Library, 1956.

2 v.: ill., facsims.; 29 cm.

500 copies printed on Lee paper at the Anthoensen Press, Portland, Me.

Introduction by Sarah Augusta Dickson.

Vol. 1 comprises a transcription of the first draft of the play from the holograph of Act I-II in the Arents Collection and the holograph of Acts III-IV in the British Library. Vol. 2 comprises facsims. of the typescripts of Acts I, III and IV and the holograph of Act II (with author’s ms. emendations, deletions, etc.) in the Arents Collection. For originals, see Arents S 1534, no. 1-2.

Binding: Publisher’s white boards, by the Russell-Rutter Co.; issued in slipcase.“

“In 1956 the curator of the Arents Tobacco Collection in the New York Public Library, Sarah Augusta Dickson, published under the library imprint a two-volume limited edition of transcriptions and facsimiles of the four-act version of Wilde’s play, identified on the title page as The Importance of Being Earnest: a Trivial Comedy for Serious People in Four Acts as Originally Written by Oscar Wilde.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. IX, p. 49)

“In Volume I, Dickson presents her own transcription of what she characterizes as the earliest versions of each of the four acts: the first two acts are transcribed from the holograph notebooks residing in the Arents Collection, while the second two are based on photo-facsimiles of notebooks residing in the British Museum. Volume II includes collotype facsimiles of the Arents typescripts of Acts I, III, and IV and the Arents manuscript of Act II. The typescripts are stamped by Mrs Marshall’s typewriting service as follows: 1 November 1894 (Act I) and 19 September 1894 (Acts III and IV); the manuscript of Act II is the Brighton manuscript, datable about 5 October 1894.“
(Donohue,
Compete Works, vol. IX, pp. 49-50)

29. Lord Chamberlain’s License Copy (typewritten manuscript)

(“Lady Lancing – A Serious Comedy for Trivial People“)
3-Act-Version [mistakenly identifed as 4-Act-Play]

30 January 1895

British Library
London

Add MS 53567 D

30 January 1895

“Lady Lancing. A Serious Comedy for Trivial People. By Oscar Wilde. Typescript. Acts separate paginated. T. p. stamped ‘St. James’s Theatre.’ Lord Chamberlain’s label pasted on: ‘Name of Play The Importance of Being Earnest Comedy (4 acts) / Theatre St. James’s / Date of Licence January 30, 1895.’ Stamped ’Miss Dickens’s Type Writing Office, / 3, TAVISTOCK STREET, /WELLINGTON STREET, / STRAND, W.C.’ and ’30 January 1895.’ 
(see Donohue and Berggren, p. 20)

“Entitled ‘Lady Lancing. A Serious Comedy for Trivial People. By Oscar Wilde,’ it was submitted by Alexander on 30 January, according to the Lord Chamberlain’s stamp (BL Add. MS. 53567 [17]), and entered in the L.C. Day Book on 2 February (Add. MS. 53707: ‘Licenses for M.S. Theatrical Pieces 1887 to 1897’ ff. 113v-114). The correct title, The Importance of Being Earnest, is recorded on the L.C. label affixed to the script, where it is mistakenly identified as a four-act play, as it is also in the Day Book entry. In fact, this script embodies extensive differences from the 31 October typescript – the latest surviving complete four-act text …“ “
(Donohue and Berggren, p. 73)

“The earliest known three-act version of the play is submitted to the Lord Chamberlain’s office on January 30, 1895, for licensing.“
(Berggren,
The Definitive Four-Act Version, p. 31)

“Close scrutiny of the details of this typescript discloses noticeable evidence of haste in the typing: lines are sometimes extended fully to the right margin without end punctuation, with a run-on sentence occasionally resulting, continuing on to the next line; end-stops are missed; and so on. Generally, it is a lightly punctuated script in which parallel or otherwise correlative punctuation is not always supplied. More than one typist and more than one machine were used for each act. Evidently, Miss Dickens’s office was under some considerable pressure to produce a quick turnaround.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 751)

“The variant names Brancaster (for Bracknell) and Montford (for Moncrieff) occur [in this copy] in speech headings and spoken text…“
(Donohue and Berggren, p. 18)

“Some few pencil corrections … evidently made by the typist …“
(ibid.)

“The date of the licensing specified on the label as 30 January 1895 is a full fortnight before the play actually opened. Certain changes that many readers familiar with the play would now take for granted had not yet been effected … . 

Although it is recent enough to reflect the results of Alexander’s cutting of the Gribsby episode in Act II, the LC copy is still the fullest of the three-act typescripts.“
(Donohue,
Complete Works, vol. X, p. 750)

“Close scrutiny of the details of this typescript discloses noticeable evidence of haste in the typing … . More than one typist and more than one machine were used for each act. Evidently, Miss Dickens’s office was under some considerable pressure to produce a quick turnaround.“
(ibid., p. 751)

30. Library of Congress copyright copy

Library of Congress Washington, DC

?date

[no details in Dramatic Compositions Copyrighted in the United States, 1870 to 1916, Volume 1 and 2, Library of Congress, Washington, 1918]

Autograph Manuscript
(“The Importance of Being Earnest“)

Acts I and II

6 Jan. 1895

unknown

[most likely a forgery]

Kim Herzinger, book dealer, Greenwich Village

[Gardner, Anthony, “The Oscar Wilde Forgeries“, Sunday Times Magazine, [8 July] 2007, see https://bit.ly/3fu033s]

“… 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 https://bit.ly/3fu033s)

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 273

“Autograph Manuscript, signed, 93 pp., folio. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest.’ Dated at end, Jan. 6, 1895 [sic! – no autograph manuscripts exist after October 1894] . Bound in red crushed levant morocco, gilt tooled, lined with red silk, by Zaehnsdorf.

Apparently the first draft of Wilde’s famous comedy. The present manuscript is divided into two acts. It would appear that Wilde believed it too short for stage purposes and, without disturbing the sequence of the plot or dialogue he expanded the latter part, making it a four-act play. The manuscript of Acts III and IV of this expansion is in the British Museum. Before its presentation on Feb. 14, 1895, however, Wilde compressed Acts II and III into one, obtaining the desired length by a running expansion of the dialogue. A superb manuscript of one of Wilde’s great comedies, of particular importance and interest in revealing its early – perhaps original – form.“

[facsimile of autograph page, see sale catalogue, p. 48]

“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 manuscript 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)

Autograph / Typewritten Manuscript

Philip and A.S.W. Rosenbach,
[
?1895]

“I remember my brother Philip telling me that directly after the trial, he went into a famous bookshop in London, looking for manuscripts of Oscar Wilde. … To his surprise he saw on a table the original drafts of Wilde’s three plays ‘The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband, and Lady Windermere’s Fan. … It was obvious that the sooner [the bookseller] got those manuscripts out of his shop, the better he would feel. So my brother bought them immediately …“
(Rosenbach,
A Book Hunter’s Holiday, p. 7)

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