Oscar Wilde began creating characters and plotlines and composing dialogue for A Woman of No Importance in this inexpensive lined notebook in 1891. By looking at the notebook and other manuscripts of A Woman of No Importance, we can see that Wilde polished and refined his social comedy over several drafts.
What does the notebook tell us about Wilde’s creative process?
Wilde noted down pieces of dialogue and plot outlines before knowing exactly where he would use them in the play. Working in pencil, he usually started a new page for each idea or piece of dialogue. ‘Why Arbuthnot / Charlotte?’ he writes in a scrawling hand on the back of folio 30. ‘One name is as good as another for those who have no right to any’. Here he is referring to ‘Mrs Arbuthnot’, the ‘woman of no importance’ of the title, whom Lord Illingworth refused to marry years earlier even though she was pregnant with their child. Many passages of text have been crossed through in pencil. This was probably part of Wilde’s process of moving the words and ideas from the notebook into the first draft of the play. Some lines of dialogue appear verbatim in the published version of the play, while others were heavily altered or discarded. We can also see that Wilde was a doodler. Sketches of heads and horses can be seen behind the front and back covers.
How did the British Library acquire the notebook?
The notebook was bequeathed to the British Library in 2003 by Mary, Viscountess Eccles (1912–2003). Lady Eccles was a book and manuscript collector who built one of the most comprehensive collections of material by and about Wilde in private hands. The manuscripts in the Lady Eccles Oscar Wilde Collection include literary, personal and family papers of Wilde, and correspondence with and between his friends and associates.