A previously unpublished autograph letter signed (ALS) by Oscar Wilde appeared a little while ago at auction in North Carolina. Aided by the letter’s evident authenticity and the fact that the consignor is a direct family descendant, it sold at auction for $5,500.
The item is a note sent by Wilde to Anne Lynch Botta, the 19th century doyenne of New York literary society, in which he expresses regret at not being able to attend a reception, owing to his impending departure for Canada.
We can use internal evidence from the letter to learn more about Wilde’s itinerary.
PHILADELPHIA LIBRARY ACQUIRES RARE TYPESCRIPT OF UNPUBLISHED PORTIONS OF WILDE’S “DE PROFUNDIS”
On a balmy Sunday lunchtime last Spring I found myself in the refreshment area of the prestigious New York Antiquarian Book Fair. The ambience and the food were very pleasant, perhaps suspiciously so, which I should have seen as a portent for what I was about to discover had I not been obliviously fitting in.
My café table had an inlaid chessboard and the kindly stranger opposite made the first move. “Are you a dealer or a collector?” he asked, with an air of inevitability that suggested a third alternative had not previously existed. As I was that third alternative I countered with the vague department store defense: “I’m just browsing.” It was a gambit designed to replace the probability of being neither with the possibility of being either.
However, it soon became apparent to me, if not to my new friend, that even the self-imposed rank of ‘browser‘ had wildly overstated my standing as a potential customer.
A rediscovered letter by Oscar Wilde informs his relationship with anonymity
Wilde’s college exploits, his aesthetic entry into London society, the self-publicity of his American tour, and his rise to fame have all been well documented; and the story often distills to the crucial moment of his fall from grace, a short period in 1895 when fame turned to infamy.
But there is a more enduring, more subtle, and underlying theme that began with Wilde’s desire to be known: it was a journey through his art and life towards an imperative for anonymity.