Thoughts Made Visible

Thoughts Made Visible

Rare texts by Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, James Baldwin, Gabriel García Márquez and others illuminate the inner genius of the 20th century’s greatest literary minds.
Rare texts by Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, James Baldwin, Gabriel García Márquez and others illuminate the inner genius of the 20th century’s greatest literary minds.

T he spring 1953 issue of the Paris Review featured the first entry in the periodical’s beloved “Writers at Work” series, establishing a model of wide-ranging, belletristic conversation that also tackled questions of craft. Yet few beyond a writer’s trusted cast of editors, proofreaders and associates are privileged enough to participate in the ritual of writing itself. Among the most alluring proxies are the material traces of a writer’s life and creative process: correspondence with family and peers, press clippings and publicity ephemera, stray doodles and marginalia.

A remarkable collection of literary paraphernalia from the library of an American filmmaker presents a wide array of works notable for their importance in the history of letters. The auction, now open for bidding through 8 December, includes the earliest substantial typescript of Henry Miller’s erotic roman à clef Tropic of Cancer (1934) – without pseudonyms – and the legendary typed scroll that became Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums (1958). Some of the most influential writers of the 20th century are represented, with significant works from Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, Gabriel García Márquez, Saul Bellow and John Cheever, among others.

Often discarded during the publication process or kept under lock and key in archives, such documents provide surprisingly intimate glimpses of canonical texts. Logistics are worked out in the margins, where a writer shapes, line by line, the overall character of a book. In the hands of a master, every decision is important, no matter how small – and this level of care and consideration is precisely why these works have enthralled readers for generations.

The 8 December auction features an autograph manuscript of Ernest Hemingway’s The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (left) and a bevy of personal correspondence between the novelist and his sister, Marcelline, including announcements of his first son’s birth and his first book’s publication (right).
“What authors bring to the page is irreplaceable: a record of individual experience and perception.”

An exceptional, rare autograph manuscript of Ernest Hemingway’s most-anthologized short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936), is available for the first time in 20 years. One of only two stories Hemingway set in Africa (the other is “The Snows of Mount Kilimanjaro”), it has confounded critics since publication – and this draft, written in Hemingway’s preferred medium of pencil, reveals the author’s own ambivalence around certain aspects of the narrative, with entire sections excised from the final version, including two false starts. Told in a roundelay of shifting perspectives, “The Short Happy Life” recounts the shocking death of its titular protagonist, a cowardly and cuckolded American shot on safari by his wife. Unlike Vladimir Nabokov, who declared his characters “galley slaves,” Hemingway admitted that his characters’ motivations were opaque to him, too: “I don’t know if she shot him on purpose any more than you do,” he told the Paris Review.

Jack Kerouac’s typescript scroll of The Dharma Bums written over bursts in 1957. Estimate: $300,000-500,000.

One of the standout lots is a marvelous typescript draft of Kerouac’s classic novel The Dharma Bums, composed on 61 feet of wove paper over eleven days in a series of manic, drug-fueled bursts in Florida. Alongside this landmark scroll is a charming presentation copy of Kerouac’s first novel, The Town and the City (1950), jointly inscribed by Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg to their Columbia classmate John Kingsland. The note begins with an exuberant, eye-catching “Eeeeeeeeeeeeek” that balloons across the page before proceeding, with characteristic zeal, to dispense a torrent of high gossip. And it’s certainly true that a writer’s ephemera can be as revealing as the text itself: selected letters from Kerouac to Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs map the sexual entanglements and rifts that powered the prolific output of the Beat Generation. The trio comprised the movement’s heart, with each taking various lovers – and occasionally sleeping with each other.

A corrected typescript for John Cheever’s controversial late masterpiece, Falconer (1977), offers a telling look into the author’s final edits. Hailed as “extraordinary” by Joan Didion in the New York Times, the novel famously incorporated many direct observations from Cheever’s time as a writing instructor at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. It also featured a same-sex prison romance that stoked rumors of Cheever’s bisexuality, which were later confirmed in his posthumously released journals and letters. Among the related items are a publisher’s proof, signed by Cheever on the half-title; selected notes and flyers from the editorial and publicity teams at Knopf; and a presentation copy of the first published edition, inscribed by the author to Muriel and Malcolm Cowley, who published Cheever’s first story in the New Republic when he was only 18 years old.

Left: A presentation copy of James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain inscribed to Ed Parone with two letters. Estimate: $8,000-12,000. Right: The final, corrected typescript of John Cheever’s Falconer with several letters and related items. Estimate: $20,000-30,000.

Some of the most compelling works for sale are valuable records of literary history. A presentation copy of James Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953), is inscribed to Ed Parone, a talent scout for William Morris Agency and close friend of the author. The lot also includes two letters to Parone, articulating Baldwin’s anxieties about his Swiss lover, Lucien Happersberger (“the one true love story of my life”), and the anticipated rejection of his second book, Giovanni’s Room (1956), after receiving tepid feedback from his publisher: “‘Toning down’ the book will mean, I’m afraid, no book – and I’m certainly not going to murder my own child.” While Knopf ultimately passed – even suggesting that Baldwin “burn” the draft, given its frank depiction of a homosexual affair – the novel was eventually published with the Dial Press; it is now considered one of the mainstays of 20th-century gay literature.

Today, even as ChatGPT and Google Bard work to demystify the writing process and empower millions to pen their own fiction, the spark of invention remains elusive, beyond the grasp of any algorithm or black box. Writing has always frustrated any attempt at standardization, even though it’s built on complex and often rigid systems of grammar and syntax. But what authors bring to the page is irreplaceable: a record of individual experience and perception. These materials serve as powerful testimony to the act of creation – and draw us closer to the near-impossible reward of perfect expression, of words settling into their rightful place.

Highlights of Important Modern Literature from the Library of an American Filmmaker

Top: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) writes while hunting big game in Kenya, September 1952. Photo via Dappled History / Alamy Stock Photo

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