Late 1895 can’t have been easy for Oscar Wilde, unjustly imprisoned due to ‘gross indecency’ (homosexual activity) in the same year his play The Importance Of Being Earnest debuted on the London stage.
Two years were spent at Reading gaol, where he would suffer terribly from mental abuse by governor Henry Isaacson, a bullying sort Wilde claimed had "the soul of a rat", banning the writer from any sort of literature.
Eventually, Isaacson was replaced by Major James Nelson, who immediately gave Wilde access to books, reportedly telling the scribe, "The Home Office has allowed you some books. Perhaps you would like to read this one. I have just been reading it myself." Wilde is said to have broken down when informed so.
To pay back the kindness, Upon release, Wilde inscribed a special edition (13 of 100) of The Importance Of Being Earnest to his former jailor, writing, “To Major Nelson: from the author. A trivial recognition of a great and noble kindness. Feb, 99.”
Well now the copy of the play is to go under the hammer, meaning, if you’ve a spare £60,000 upwards, this piece of history could well be your very own when Bonhams, London auctions off the work on 18 June.
While many signed rare books can fetch great sums, few come close to matching the inscription found in this one. It’s about as earnest as it gets.
[Via LA Times]