The Ballad of Reading Gaol
Fifth edition, and inscribed by the Duchess of Sutherland, whose family had a Wilde connection
Fifth edition. Hardback, white cloth spine with gilt titling to spine, mustard yellow cloth covered boards. Fore-edge and bottom edge untrimmed. 23 × 14cm, 31 pages printed recto only. The fifth edition was printed in March 1898 a month after the first printing. Oscar Wilde's name was not printed on the book until 1899, and was published anonymously as shown with this issue which has C.3.3. as the author, which stood for cell block C, landing 3, cell 3.
This copy has an interesting inscription to the ffep. It reads "C.H.S. Gmelin from the Duchess of Sutherland". The recipient was Charles Henry Stuart Gmelin (1872–1950), a British athlete who competed at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens and represented Oxfordshire at both football and in cricket where he competed in the Minor Counties Championship from 1895 to 1906. The Duchess of Sutherland was Millicent St-Clair Erskine, a poet, author, social reformer and society hostess who married the 3rd Duke of Sutherland. The Sutherlands had some connection with Oscar Wilde. The Duchess' uncle by marriage was Ronald Gower (brother of the second Duke) who was introduced to Wilde in Oxford in 1876. Wilde wrote his short story The Portrait of Mt W H which was in some part inspired by Gower and his circle, and Gower is also considered to be the model for Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray. There is a further connection with Oscar Wilde and the Sutherlands in that the 2nd Duke's second wife was "Duchess Blair", their marriage caused a scandal in 1890s London society and after the Duke's death, she burnt probate documents to ensure inheritance and was sent to Holloway Prison for six weeks. Wilde, part of London society at this time, observed this and it may well have inspired some of his play, An Ideal Husband. The play was released two weeks after the probate was finally granted and reflected Wilde’s intimate knowledge of the Sutherland family.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol was written by Oscar Wilde whilst in exile in Berneval-le-Grand, after his release from Reading Gaol on May 1897. He had been sentenced to two years of hard labour in 1895 as punishment for having engaged in homosexual acts. While serving out his sentence at Reading Gaol in Berkshire, Wilde witnessed the execution by hanging of a young soldier who had murdered his wife by slashing her throat. Profoundly shaken by the execution and the crime that preceded it, Wilde composed this elegiac poem centred on the haunting refrain, "Yet each man kills the thing he loves." The book's dedication is to this soldier C.T.W. (Charles Thomas Wooldridge).
The book is in good condition for age. The covers are marked as is common for this title, with tanning to the spine and bumping to the corners. The endpaper is browned, but the main body of text is in good plus condition. There some light scattered foxing and a heavier amount of browning to the foot of page four. The inner binding is secure, and the hinges are intact.
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