Book History

Author: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was an English and Irish novelist, playwright, poet, critic and celebrity in 19th century London. Oscar Fingal O’Flartie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin on October 16, 1854 to a successful surgeon and respected author, Sir William, and his wife Jane. Wilde’s mother, Lady Jane Francesca Wilde was a successful poet and journalist. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin but soon transferred to Magdalen College at Oxford when he showed immense promise. While at Oxford, Wilde became influenced by the aesthetic movement which emphasized aesthetic values more than moral or social themes. This doctrine is most clearly summarized in the phrase 'art for art's sake.' This idea stayed with Wilde his whole life and is very prominent in his works. Graduating with honors in 1878, Wilde moved to London and began pursuing a literary career.

Wilde produced a large variety of works. He produced a volume of poetry in 1881 while at the same time contributing to publications such as the “Pall Mall Gazette,” wrote short stories, was an art and literary critic for various magazines and periodicals, and published novels such as The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). His greatest success, however, was writing plays. These were a series of comedies that became famous for their wit and memorable lines. Throughout the 1890s, Wilde produced a number of hits including Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Through these works, Wilde gained widespread fame and celebrity in London.

Wilde’s private life contributed as much to his fame as his works. In 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd and they had two sons. By 1891, however, Wilde had been involved in an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas. When rumors of the affair began to spread, Wilde sued Douglas’ father, the Marquis of Queensbury, for libel after the Marquis accused Wilde of being a homosexual. Wilde lost and was arrested and tried for gross indecency. As a result, Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor, writing a series of letters and criticisms in prison. Released from jail, Wilde’s health was failing and his reputation ruined. He moved to Europe, staying with friends and living in poverty. He died in Paris from cerebral meningitis on November 30, 1900.
Bibliographic Information
This work was published by Thomas Shrimpton & Son in Oxford. It is a first edition and is sixteen pages long. It is a small work, 17 x 12 cm. It was published in 1878 as the winner of the Newdigate Prize, an award given to an Oxford undergraduate, in this case Oscar Wilde, who produced an excellent heroic poem on a given topic. This was the first published work of Wilde in book/pamphlet form; he had previously printed works in periodicals. This edition was prepared for issue on the occasion of Wilde reciting his winning poem in the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford on June 26, 1878. It is known that 168 were printed for those people who attended the recitation, but it is not known how many copies Thomas Shrimpton additionally printed to sell.
Physical Description
This pamphlet is an octavo with a single quire sown into original green-grey wrappers. It is printed in black ink. The wrappers are worn and discolored, and there is a large hole through the center of the front wrapper. The Oxford Crest is printer on both the front wrapper and title page. The tile page also contains a simple border around the text and crest. On the first page of the actual text of the poem, page five, a decorative band of abstract lines precedes the text and the first letter of the poem itself is decorative. Both are in black ink. The only other decoration is a small abstract design on the last page of the poem, beneath the text. On the inside of the rear wrapper is a list of Newdigate Prize poem winners also for sale by Thomas Shrimpton and Son booksellers.
Illustrator: N/A
N/A
Publisher: Thomas Shrimpton & Son

Thomas Shrimpton & Son were publishers and booksellers known to have operated in Broad Street, Oxford from 1840-1901. According to an 1841 census, they were located at Number 24 on Broad Street in Oxford. Thomas Shrimpton, described as only a bookseller, lived over his shop with his wife, a dressmaker, three children, a lodger, and a house servant. Number 23, Broad Street, next door, was occupied by Elizabeth Forster, a blind woman of eighty who lived with a lodger and servant. By the census of 1861, Thomas Shrimpton was now described as “Book and print seller, and publisher.” The business had expanded and now occupied both the ground floors and upstairs living areas of numbers 23 and 24. At this time his son Alfred Thomas Shrimpton, aged 19, is listed as a “bookseller’s assistant. By 1881, Alfred was in charge of the business, occupying the same two buildings. He lived with his sister with six employees: two men and four boys.

Thomas Shrimpton & Son was a firm of Oxford which often printed small works similar to the pamphlet Ravenna. The works they published were usually short items produced by Oxford students and faculty. In addition to printing the Newdigate Prize poems, they published such as the Stanhope Prize essays and Gaisford Prize poems. Starting in 1878, Thomas Shrimpton & Son also began editing and publishing Ye Round Table and Oxford and Cambridge magazine printed three times throughout term. Thomas Shrimpton & Son also printed photographs and drawings. They became well know for publishing caricature drawings of various Oxford personalities. These caricature drawings were then displayed in the shop window drawing a lot of attention and often criticism from faculty members. Alfred Thomas Shrimpton also wrote a number of guides with illustrations about various aspects of Oxford. For example he wrote a tourist’s guide to Oxford and a guide to the dress of Oxford faculty. By 1902, numbers 23 and 24 Broad Street were being occupied by a different bookseller and it is not known what happened to Thomas Shrimpton & Son.

Manifestations
No known manuscript of Ravenna exists. A large number of this original edition exist, especially considering the limited number printed. The rarest versions contain handwritten inscriptions of Wilde to various guests who heard him recite this at the Theatre in Oxford. There are also rare copies in which Thomas Shrimpton has written inscriptions. This is the only authorized edition of this version of Ravenna. There was an unauthorized reprint of this edition in 1904 printed in London. The poem Ravenna has been reprinted innumerable times in hundreds of volumes containing Wilde’s works. It was first reprinted in a new volume by Wilde himself in Poems (1881). It is also available many places online in its entirety. Changes to the text itself have been little to none throughout the various editions.
Bibliography

Beckson, Karl. The Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia (New York: AMS Press, 1998).

Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, The Organ of the Book Trade (London: J. Whitaker, 1879).

“EXTREMELY RARE PRESENTATION COPY Of OSCAR WILDE’SRAVENNA, HIS FIRST WORK, INSCRIBED BY HIM.” Bauman Rare Books. http://www.baumanrarebooks.com/rare-books/wilde-oscar/ravenna/82478.aspx.

Gaskell, Philip.A New Introduction to Bibliography (New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 1972).

Gillespie, Michael Patrick. Oscar Wilde and the Poetics of Ambiguity (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1996).

Hardwick, Michael. The Drake Guide to Oscar Wilde (New York: Drake Publishers Inc., 1973).

Jenkins, Stephanie. “Broad Street, Oxford.” Oxford History. http://www.headington.org.uk/oxon/broad/index.htm.

Mason, Stuart. Bibliography of Oscar Wilde (London:T. Werner Laurie Ltd., 1914). Also available at http://www.google.com/books?id=kULQAAAAMAAJ.

“Oscar Wilde Bibliography; A Collector’s Guide.” Bookseller World. http://www.booksellerworld.com/oscarwilde-bibliography.htm.

Oxford and Cambridge Undergraduate's Journal, Volume 7, Issues 2-8. Also available at http://www.google.com/books?id=mx8PAQAAMAAJ.

Shrimpton, Thomas & Son. Shrimptons' easy guide to Oxford: arranged as a walk through the university and city, enabling strangers to visit, in the shortest time, every part possessing interest (Oxford: Thomas Shrimpton & Son, 1871).

Small, Ian. “Introduction.” In The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, vol. 4. Edited by Russell Jackson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Essay

Ravenna: recited in The Theatre, Oxford, June 26, 1878 by Oscar Wilde is a small 16 page octavo pamphlet containing the poem Ravenna. This is the only authorized edition of this particular printing of Ravenna, although a black market edition meant to copy this one was printed in 1904. Ravenna itself has been published hundreds of times in various collected works of Oscar Wilde but is not published by itself. This edition was published by Thomas Shrimpton & Son as the winner of the Newdigate Prize, an award given to an Oxford undergraduate for the best submitted poem to the Newdigate competition. As winner of this competition, Wilde was invited to recite the poem in the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford in front of Oxford faculty. Ravenna was published and handed out to those present much like a Playbill is today. This work is important for three primary reasons: it was Oscar Wilde’s first published work outside pamphlet form, it is an example of the type of ephemera printers and publishers used to supplement book sales, and it is an example of the unique role of printing at Oxford University in the mid to late nineteenth century.

Oscar Wilde was an English and Irish novelist, playwright, poet, critic and celebrity in late 19th century London. He was born in Dublin on October 16, 1854 to a successful surgeon and respected author, Sir William, and his wife Jane. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin but soon transferred to Magdalen College at Oxford when he showed immense literary promise. While at Oxford, Wilde became influenced by the aesthetic movement which emphasized aesthetic values more than moral or social themes. This doctrine is most clearly summarized in the phrase 'art for art's sake.' This idea stayed with Wilde his whole life and is very prominent in his works. After university, Wilde moved to London and became very successful with plays and novels such as the The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), An Ideal Husband (1895), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). In the late 1890s, however, Wilde was accused and charged with gross indecency because of a homosexual relationship. He was jailed and died two years late in poverty and disgrace on November 30, 1900.

Ravenna had been a turning point in Wilde’s career. It was the first of Wilde’s works to be published in a form other than periodicals and outside of his native Ireland. It was a significant achievement in Wilde’s early career and helped convince him to move to London. Many critics and English scholars attribute this success at Oxford as improving Wilde’s confidence and reputation as a good writer. It was this confidence that led him to believe he could be accepted in English society and to flourish in his literary career.

Ravenna was a small publication used for one event in a university setting. It was not created to make a profit. Its publication is an illustration of how small publishers and booksellers in Oxford functioned in the later 19th century. While in places like London and New York printing was becoming a massive, factory-style business, in small towns such as Oxford, smaller printing firms still dominated. The publisher, Thomas Shrimpton & Son, was a small printer, publisher, engraver, and bookseller that functioned similarly to the printing houses of the early history of print in the eighteenth century. This firm catered to Oxford students and faculty, selling a large variety of works from scholarly texts to comedic picture books. Workers lived and worked in the same building, and Thomas Shrimpton & Son did a wide range of tasks to stay in business other than just printing, publishing, and selling books. Ravenna is one such example of this. Between 168 and 171 copies were commissioned by Oxford University for Wilde’s recitation. In this way, there was little to no risk for the Shrimptons. They had the poem printed at the larger firm, Parker of Oxford, and then sold extra copies in his shop. Ravenna was published in a small number for a very specific purpose. Ephemera such as this pamphlet were what kept small printers and publishers in business in small towns.

Ravenna: recited in The Theatre, Oxford, June 26, 1878 is not merely an important text for the study of Wilde’s career and works, but is also an important material object that examines a unique role of printing at Oxford University. As a university town, Oxford had a series of small printers and publishers who catered to students and faculty. Ravenna is the type of ephemera that shows how the mechanization and increasing technology of printing enabled works such as this to be produced cheaply and quickly. Printing materials like periodicals and pamphlets were part of print culture at this period, especially in Oxford where not only was there a plethora of booksellers and publishers, but also students and faculty who wanted to get their ideas published.


Submitted by Jocelyn Lewis
Published: 1878
Call Number: PR5820 .R2 1878
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