The Ballad of Reading Gaol
The Ballad of Reading Gaol

WILDE, Oscar; [Frans MASEREEL, Illustrator]. The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

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With 36 woodcuts by Masereel.

WILDE, Oscar; [Frans MASEREEL, Illustrator]. The Ballad of Reading Gaol. London: Methuen & Co.,1924.

Large 8vo., blue publisher's boards, lettered in gilt to spine; original glassine wrapper; housed in a matching card slip-case, with 36 woodcuts by Frans Masereel, 7 of which are full-page; pp. [ii], 57, [vii], many unopened; glassine with some loss and tearing, a little offsetting to endpapers; slip case a little faded, with small crack expertly repaired; internally a very fresh copy, with just the odd spot.
First edition thus, one of 50 numbered copies, this an inscribed presentation copy no. 2 for F. Muller, as written in ink on the limitation page.
A beautifully illustrated interpretation of one of Wilde's most moving poems. Written in exile after his sentence had been carried out in 1897, it is based around the execution of Charles Wooldridge, which Wilde himself witnessed. It is rumoured that Aubrey Beardsley was originally approached to illustrate the poem, but this idea was rejected and the first edition appeared without illustrations.
Masereel is a fitting illustrator for this limited edition. Traditionally a Flemish painter, it was his visits to England and Germany in 1909 which influenced his lean towards woodcuts, and this example was most likely produced while he was working in Paris between the First and Second World Wars. He is considered by some to be the creator of the woodcut novel, and his style is simplistic, though full of emotion. The full-page illustrations in this volume mostly depict a singular prisoner in various positions - praying, lying down, or facing the sky, and for the most part the backdrop is of solid brick walls.