'Devil's servant' Wilde in news again at literary auction
Michelle Hoffman | October 28, 2004
LONDON — From his lover's rancorous manuscript to a deathbed picture,
Oscar Wilde's glory and shame as a homosexual Victorian dandy and
one of his era's greatest celebrities are illuminated in a
collection up for sale Friday in London.
One of the lots is a book manuscript by Wilde's lover, Lord
Alfred Douglas, lashing out at the Irish-born wit and writer as the
devil's servant, a charge made years after Wilde's death in 1900
but never published.
"He was one of the most powerful forces for evil that has
happened in Europe for the last 300 years," Douglas, nicknamed
"Bosie", wrote in his The Wilde Myth of 1916.
"I do not know of any man who more truly and literally sold
himself to the Devil than he did."
The manuscript is but one highlight of 104 lots being sold off
by a British private collector, who is remaining anonymous,
expected in total to fetch more than 600,000 pounds (850,000 euros,
1.1 million dollars) in total.
The sale marks this year's 150th anniversary of Wilde's birth.
Wilde's affair with the younger Bosie, son of the Marquess of
Queensberry, began in 1891 and led within just a few years to his
own public disgrace as a "sodomite" as well as divorce, jail and
Wilde disastrously brought a slander lawsuit in 1895 against the
marquess, who had publicly accused him of being homosexual, then a
The marquess was acquitted and, in turn, counter-sued, leading
to Wilde's arrest on charges of indecency. He was condemned and
given a two-year sentence of hard labor.
Reared in the refinery of high society and used to a dandy's
life, Wilde never recovered from the travails of Reading Gaol, and
after his release died an early death, crippled with debt, in a
The collection on sale at Sotheby's auction house includes first
editions, inscribed presentation copies and manuscripts of some of
his most celebrated works, including The Picture of Dorian Gray
The author of The Importance of Being Earnest was an
unequalled master of conversation, renowned as much for his pithy
epigrams as his dramatic output.
Lot 69, consisting of a page of his famous epigrams crossed out
and amended in his own hand, shows that his natural wit required
hard work and editing.
"Wickedness is a myth invented by good people to account for the
superior attractiveness of others," Wilde wrote on the page.
"A really great romance is the privilege of the people who have
absolutely nothing to do. That is one use of the idle class in the
country," reads another, with "really" and "absolutely" tacked on
as finishing touches.
Sotheby's expects the page to fetch 8,000 to 12,000 pounds.
Other memorabilia includes a first edition of A Woman of No
Importance, inscribed to his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Wilde,
and valued at up to 40,000 pounds.
A faded picture of Wilde on his deathbed is another draw, valued
at up to 10,000 pounds.
Two of the most compelling items on show capture him at his
weakest, mired in the poignant end-of-life drama that has fueled
his cult of fame.
A slim catalogue lists in painful detail all of Wilde's
belongings at his home in London's Chelsea district, which were
forcibly auctioned off there in 1895 as he festered in jail.
Only one of four remaining catalogues and expected to fetch
30,000-40,000 pounds, it includes mundane household details and and
even, item 237, "a very large quantity of toys" kept from Wilde's
Bosie's unpublished rant is the other item, a manuscript so
extreme it was not published due to fears it libelled then-prime
minister Herbert Asquith.
The young aristocrat never got over Wilde. Bosie published
Oscar Wilde and Myself in 1914 and another, more forgiving book
on the subject in 1944.
But The Wilde Myth simply seethes with badly-written fury.
"The Wilde myth has devastated my life from every point of
view," Bosie wrote. "It devastated my life when I was a victim to
its illusions, and it has devastated my life ever since I escaped
from those illusions."
The text was written several years after the release of Wilde's
posthumous De Profundis, exposing Bosie as the writer's
unintelligent and vain lover and leading to his divorce and public
"Personally I think this whole self-pitying aspect of Douglas is
unbearable, but others make the point that Wilde wouldn't (have
achieved what he had)
without him," said Peter Selley, an English literature
specialist at Sotheby's.
The manuscript, at up to 50,000 pounds the second-most valuable
item in the collection, "won't revolutionize Wilde studies, but
it's really an example of the extreme nature of Douglas' feelings
toward Wilde," Selley said.
The Wilde Myth is one of only two copies in existence, the
other being accessible only to researchers at the University of
California at Los Angeles.
The most expensive item in the whole collection – estimated at
60,000 to 80,000 pounds – is a working manuscript of a chapter of
The Picture of Dorian Gray which includes controversial passages
that were later removed, including Dorian's visit to an opium den. – Sapa-AFP
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