W.S. Gilbert: His Life and Letters, by Sidney Dark and Rowland Grey (London: Methuen and Co., 1924) is notable for its inclusion of interesting excerpts of Gilbert's work in the text of the biography. Dark and Grey's work not only discusses Gilbert's writing and illustration, including contributions to Fun, but also devotes nearly half of the text to such treats as Gilbert's piece On the Various Orders of Noses. Of the biographies devoted simply to outlining and briefly discussing Sir Gilbert's life, Gilbert: His Life and Strife, by Pearson (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1957) and W.S.Gilbert: A Classic Victorian and His Theater, by Jane W. Stedman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) are quite good, but the latter is much more readable to the contemporary reader, and seems to contain more information at the same time. Other benefits of the Stedman work include chapters about burlesque and fairy books, and Gilbert's method of composition. Stedman recommends Annie Thomas's Played Out (1866), a novel in which the hero bears a close resemblance to Gilbert, as a source of contemporary biographical insight.
The best collection of all the Gilbert and Sullivan (Savoy) Operettas is The Complete and Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, which is edited with an introduction by Ian Bradley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996). Bradley prefaces each operetta with a little biography discussing the lives of composer and author before and during the period, every one of which summarizes most of the significant knowledge from the biographies in a free and accessible style. The volume also features continuous background commentary for each of the librettos on the odd-numbered pages of the text, which reveals what Lytton Strachey said to his neighbor during the first act of Iolanthe, and why Ruddigore lacks a "patter song."
Additions by Derek B. Scott (2012)
Baily, Leslie. The Gilbert and Sullivan Book. London: Spring Books, 1996; orig. pub. London: Cassell. 1952, revd 1956.
Bradley, Ian, ed. The Complete Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996; revd edn, orig. pub. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1982.Brahms, Caryl. Gilbert and Sullivan: Lost Chords and Discords. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975.
Cannadine, David. 'Gilbert and Sullivan: The Making and Un-Making of a British "Tradition"', Roy Porter (ed.), Myths of the English Cambridge: Polity Press: 1992. 12-32.
Gilbert, William Schwenck. The Story of the Mikado. London: Daniel O'Connor, 1921.
Williamson, Audrey. Gilbert and Sullivan Opera: A New Assessment. Rev. ed. London: Boyars, 1982; orig. pub. Rockliff, 1953.
Gilbert and Sullivan Archive (Boise State University, Idaho): http://diamond.boisestate.edu/gas
23 June 2012