Some of the world's best-loved first edition books, by authors such as John Steinbeck and James Joyce, are being auctioned at Sotheby's in London next week, with many of the books containing handwritten inscriptions.
A first edition of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was given by the author to his first lover Robert Ross in 1899 inscribed with the words, "To the mirror of perfect friendship, Robbie, whose name I have written on the portal of this little play."
Ross showed fierce loyalty to Wilde throughout his life, even after their affair had mellowed into friendship. When Wilde was arrested for gross indecency Ross broke into his home to stop his manuscripts being seized by police. He later worked to rescue Wilde's estate from bankruptcy and regain the rights to his works which had previously been sold, which eventually led to the publication of Wilde's final works from 1899 onwards. The first edition of The Importance of Being Earnest is estimated at between £150,000-£200,000 ($230,000-305,000).
"The highest valued lot in the sale is the copy inscribed to Robert Ross who initiated Wilde into homosexuality and so opened up this whole world to Oscar Wilde which of course led to his ruin for a period. Ross isn't important just as his first lover but also as the friend who stood by him for the entirety of his life and in fact beyond," said Sotheby's specialist on books and scripts, Peter Selley.
There are some blunt handwritten notes by a displeased Britain's Queen Victoria on a biography by Agnes Strickland, Queen Victoria From Her Birth To Her Bridal. In it Victoria scribbled corrections over some 100 pages like "not true", "quite false", "absurd" and "nonsense".
"The Queen has annotated profusely in the margins, so it is a wonderful document. The palace sent it back to the author and the publisher and they were mortified and immediately seized all copies they could find so there were only a few copies in deposit libraries, apart from this one, the family copy, which has come down by descent," said Selley.
Other presentation copies up for auction are by James Joyce, TS Eliot and DE Lawrence.