Auctions | June 18, 2021

Wilde, Joyce, Carroll Association Copies at Bonhams

Courtesy of Bonhams

Poems by Oscar Wilde inscribed to Alphonse Daudet. Estimate: £15,000-25,000

London — One of the fascinating aspects of collecting rare books is coming across an association copy – a work by a famous author given to an, often, equally famous contemporary. Bonhams Fine Books, Manuscripts and Photographs sale in London on Wednesday 24 June offers three fine association copies including a copy of Ulysses by James Joyce presented and inscribed to H.G. Wells. It is estimated at £20,000-30,000.

Joyce inscribed the copy of his most famous work "To H.G. Wells respectfully James Joyce, 5 November 1928 Paris" but this relatively formal wording disguises the warmth of the relationship between these very different giants of 20th century English literature. Wells had been an early advocate of Joyce, penning a highly favourable review of the latter’s first book A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and in a letter to Joyce later in November 1928 he wrote, "I have enormous respect for your genius dating from your earliest books and I feel now a great personal liking for you”, signing off that "I can't follow your banner any more than you can follow mine. But the world is wide and there is room for both of us to be wrong.”

The sale also offers a presentation copy of the first published edition of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) inscribed to Margaret Evelyn Hardy, the daughter of Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, 1st Earl of Cranbrook. Gathorne Hardy (as he was known until elevated to the peerage) had come to Carroll’s notice in 1865, the year Alice was published, when he became Conservative MP for the Oxford University constituency, defeating Gladstone in the process. By 1867 Hardy had become Home-Secretary in Lord Derby’s government and in June that year he visited Oxford where Carroll invited him to sit for his photograph. The results were not a success, but the two men became friends. Later that month, Hardy wrote to Carroll that "My little girl's names are Margaret Evelyn, and I am sure she would dearly treasure Alice in English and French but has no right to tax you for both." (This was not to be the family’s only literary association. Many years later, Margaret’s nephew Eddie Gathorne-Hardy was one of the models for the outrageous Miles Malpractice in Evelyn Waugh’s second novel, Vile Bodies). Estimate: £20,000-30,000.

Poems by Oscar Wilde inscribed "á Alphonse Daudet le plus grand romancier des nos jours, hommage de l'auteur. Oscar Wilde Mai 3 [18]83". (To Alphonse Daudet the greatest novelist of our day with homage from the author) completes the trio. Wilde met Daudet, best known for Les Aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon, on his trip to Paris in 1883. They were probably introduced by a coltish young man about town Robert Harborough Sherard who had latched onto Wilde attracted by his fame and personality and whom the latter tolerated, mainly it would seem for his looks. By coincidence, Sherard and Daudet were dining together on 25 May 1895, the evening of Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency. Daudet’s reported reaction – that Wilde had it coming to him – suggests the relationship was never close. Sherard also denounced Wilde but nevertheless made a name for himself reminiscing about the time they had spent together. He published the first biography of the writer, entitled Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship. Estimate: £18,000-25,000.
Bonhams Head of Books and Manuscripts, Matthew Haley, said: “Association copies are often very revealing in what they tell us about writers. They can provide surprising insights into unlikely friendships – James Joyce and H.G. Wells, for example, would on the surface appear to have little in common; or remind us how some writers used their books as calling cards to advance themselves socially – Oscar Wilde was a past master at this – or, as in the case of Lewis Carroll, show us a man who made presents of his books for the simple joy of giving pleasure to others.”