July 6, 2004

Liber Paginarum Fulvarum

In an effort to get out of the house on a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon I decided that I’d head up to Highgate village and scour the old bookshops for anything interesting. My shelves already boast a first edition of Laura Chase’s The Blind Assassin, a signed copy of Jack Ryan’s biography of Fleet Admiral William Halsey; Fighting Sailor and a rather beaten, but still readable copy of On the Use of Mirrors in the Game of Chess by Milo Temesvar.
This day however I was to repay my efforts tenfold through a simple misunderstanding about which wines go with which seasonal birds, an altercation between a map of Bulgaria and a preposterous wedding hat that had been secured too tightly to a rather fetching-looking young woman’s head and a handful of used pre-war 5,000 French franc notes. None of which is important of course, what is important is that I found myself in the possession of a leather-bound galley-copy of The Importance of Being Marcus by Oscar Wilde, and not a bad one at that.
I scurried off to the bus stop and sat huddled over the beautiful book, breathing in its age and undog-earing the pages as I found them. There were pencil scribbles in the margins and my suspicions that the galleys had been bound together years later and turned into a book were confirmed when I prised part of the leather off to find a hand-written thanks from Sir Robert Gadling; the publisher.
The Importance of Being Marcus was Oscar’s first draft of what was to become the more well-known play. Major differences include the setting of the first act being changed to Half-Moon St. from Camden Parkway originally, and the characters are less reliant on good fortuned plot contrivancies to get through the convolutions of deceit and misidentity that Oscar subjects them to. Although this did seem to lumber the plot heavily and as such can be forgiven, as ultimately we just wanted Algy and Jack to kiss Cecily and Gwen.
I’m glad the overtly sexual double-entendres about going into the gardens to trim the hedges and eat muffins were removed as they really left me feeling like Oscar was just trying to inject some naughty pre-Benny Hill spirit into the play that wasn’t required. And the bodice-ripping pre-marital four-in-a-bed romp in the third act was guaranteed to leave the audience and actors questioning their motivation for watching and participating respectively.
The publisher’s margin notes included one request that Jack seemed overly obsessed with apologising all the time and saying such terribly genteel things as “gosh” and “rather” a lot and that Oscar should give the man some spine as he came across as a bit of an upper-class twit and maybe just a little bit of a whoopsie but when I got home I slipped the book between Dickens’ Peter Flowerbuck and Marlowe’s The Merrie Comedie of the Redemption of Doctor Faustus and thought nothing more of it.


1 thought on “Liber Paginarum Fulvarum

  1. i think the bodice-ripping orgy should have been left IN, thanks. then again, i’m not stephanie.

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