The Digital Collection of Oscar Wilde Documents at The Philadelphia Free Library
Readers will recall my visit to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair a couple of years ago where I was offered a very rare Oscar Wilde document.
It was a typescript of the (originally) unpublished portions of Wilde’s passive-aggressive prison masterpiece De Profundis.
It was prepared by Wilde’s literary executor, Robert Ross, for use in the 1913 trial when Lord Alfred Douglas (Oscar’s lover Bosie) sued a young Arthur Ransome for having the temerity to imply that a person he didn’t name just might have had a hand in Wilde’s downfall.
Not My Type
I politely declined to purchase the typescript, thinking it belonged much more appropriately within the hands (and budgetary means) of a public institution where visitors could see it.
Now, thanks to the power of the digital medium, everybody can see it.
The institution that purchased typescript was the Free Library of Philadelphia, which, with its 61 locations, is the 13th-largest public library system in the United States.
Chartered in 1891, its jewel is the Beaux-Arts Central Library which has stood on Vine Street near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway since 1927.
The library boasts a venerable collection of original, and important, Wilde-related documents.
The aforementioned Ransome typescript (now digitized) is not only important as a historical document in itself, it adds to scholarship with manuscript case notes by Ransome’s lawyer, Sir Henry Alfred McCardie, and revealing marginalia by Ross in which he suspiciously exaggerates Wilde’s bankruptcy losses.
The library also holds the only known typescript of Wilde’s French play Salomé (discovered quite recently) which contains many of Wilde’s handwritten emendations including the introduction of the groundbreaking notation “elle danse la danse des sept voiles.” (she dances the dance of the seven veils.)
Among the other items is a 140 page notebook full of Oscar’s drafts and doodles some of which, as Margaret Stetz (who also discovered the seven veils notation) has pointed out, bear striking allusions to the name Lillie and sketches of faces resembling himself and his future ideal type.
Docs in a Row
At the link below you will find the line up of all of these viewable (and downloadable) PDFs and more.
If you’re grateful for the freedom afforded by Philadelphia to browse these documents, there’s a DONATE button at the top of their page.