Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest auctions for $93,500 at Bonhams

A copy of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest that was gifted to his prison governor has sold at Bonhams' Books, Atlases, Manuscripts and Photographs auction, held on June 18 in London.

Its possible that Major Nelson saved Oscar Wilde's life, as the author was not faring well in Reading Gaol

Estimated at £40,000-60,000, the specially printed presentation copy of the works sold for £55,000 ($93,266). It was given to the governor of Reading Gaol after he allowed Wilde to begin writing again, with the author suffering in the prison's harsh conditions.

The books is inscribed: "To Major Nelson: from the author. A trivial recognition of a great and noble kindness. Feb, 99".

Wilde also described Major Nelson as "the most Christlike man I have ever met," remaining in contact with him long after he was released from jail.

When Oscar Wilde was famously found guilty of gross indecency related to his homosexuality in May 1895 he was sent to Wandsworth Prison, but some months later was transferred to Reading Gaol, which was then under the draconian rule of governor Henry Isaacson.

Describing Isaacson as a man with "the soul of a rat", Wilde was subjected to harsh treatment that had a profound effect on his mental and physical health.

It wasn't until July 1896 that Major James Nelson came into office at the prison and allowed Wilde a few simple liberties that the writer's health began to improve.

It was during this period that Wilde wrote his last major work, De Profundis, an extended letter to Lord Alfred Douglas, the man he saw as one of the main perpetrators of his incarceration.

See our superb selection of rare books and manuscripts for sale, with signed items from Virginia Woolf, Arthur Conan Doyle, William Golding and Ian Fleming.

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