Calling any collection ‘complete’ tempts fate. As Dr Tom Staley of the Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas, says, ‘As soon as any collection of letters is published, more fall out of the trees.’ In the case of Oscar Wilde, however, the editors of these 1,500 or so letters have enjoyed a commanding position. Merlin Holland is Wilde’s only grandson and Rupert Hart-Davis, who died last year, edited the two previous collections, published in 1962 and 1985. Even so, Holland acknowledges ‘a disturbing new trend’ in which owners of previously unpublished Wilde letters hold them back for future commercial gain in the auction room.
This handsome two-volume edition marks the centenary of Wilde’s death (in Paris, from cerebral meningitis, at the age of forty-six). Scholars will wish that the editors had identified which letters have already appeared in print. It is impossible to tell which are newly available, apart from one identified as such,