Lot 138
  • 138

Wallace, David Foster

20,000 - 30,000 USD
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  • ink and paper
Archive of 14 letters, 5 cards, 11 postcards, and an 80 pp. photocopy typescript manuscript of Wallace’s undergraduate 1985 philosophy thesis, “Richard Taylor’s ‘Fatalism’ and the Semantics of Physical Modality.” Together over 20 pages of correspondence (generally 8 1/2 x 11 in.; 328 x 215 mm). Predominantly handwritten with original mailing envelopes written from Illinois State University, Pomona College, Bloomington, IL, and Claremont, CA, circa 25 March 1997 to 19 February 2007; including four photographs: Wallace with his niece, and his dogs Jeeves, Werner, and The Drone (generally 4 x 6 in.; 102 x  152 mm). Moderate smoke damage to the typescript; very minor smoke and water damage to letters.


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Catalogue Note

A decade of correspondence between David Foster Wallace and his pen pal Susan Barnett – a fellow writer he never met – dated from 1997 to 2007. In a letter from June of 2006, Wallace writes: “Ours is, for me, a correspondence between 2 people who find each other interesting and would, if they lived close by, probably be friends.” Subject matter varies from the personal (expounding on the nature of addiction, infidelity, infatuation, and companionship) to the professional (thoughts on writing, publishing, philosophy, and mathematics). The correspondence covers Wallace’s transition from the Department of English at Illinois State University to an endowed chair at Pomona College. Extensive time devoted to Wallace’s relationships with three of his beloved dogs: The Drone, Jeeves, and Werner – including his reactions to the deaths of The Drone and Jeeves. This lot of letters includes numerous references to poor time management and writer’s block – issues that the author struggled with while working on The Pale King – the posthumously published novel that occupied the author in the decade preceding his death.   

Highlights include:  

6 Nov 2000: “[Had a] more appalling episode in Sept. – violated a core ‘value’ that’s up there for me w/ no drugs + no suicide – and now am just basically frozen: Lonely, celibate, etc., and itchy to find someone, but also unwilling to act out the infidelity-scenario again – and I’m 97% sure I would.”

13 December 2001: “I am celibate, still – going on 7 months now. I can’t say I like it, but I am learning an immense amount … of which very little is nice or fun but most of which it is far better to Know (consciously) than simply Act On (semiconsciously).”

13 April 2002: “Biggest news: Jeeves had surgery for torn ligaments in his knee… which left him in pain and hobbled, and an amount of emotional energy has gone into fussing over him and keeping Werner from treating his incision as food, etc., and feeling dreadful that something I love and am Responsible for is in pain and there’s nothing palliative I can do, and being boggled at people who have children knowing they might have to watch those children suffer. Etc. Stuff that I imagine most people have mulled and accepted in their mid-20s I’ve been mulling for the first time.”

1 February 2003: “Jeeves died last month. It was lung cancer. No treatment that didn’t sound too hard on him. The vet was very kind; he died in my arms, and I cared no more for this life for many days. In the midst of it all, I met a [symbol for woman] whom I’m certain I’ll marry if she’ll have me.”

3 April 2006: “I strongly identify with your stuff in ‘second wind’ about the reluctance to work hard on fiction that is in any way mediocre. I am currently pretty much paralyzed by similar feelings. It (the projective fatigue/despair) seems to be rooted in a lack of both hubris and humility – in my case anyway. Trust me – we all feel ‘trapped’ in our jobs, one way or another, the watchwords appear to be ‘patience’ and ‘fortitude.’ – nothing any more abstract does me any good (nor you, either, I’d hazard – we are essentially Simple Folk.)”

Also included is a draft of Wallace’s undergraduate philosophy thesis from Amherst College, “Richard Taylor’s “Fatalism” and the Semantics of Physical Modality,” and several letters concerning its possible publication at Cornell University Press. Wallace wrote this essay concurrently with his first novel, The Broom of the System.  In June of 2013, Sotheby’s sold an archive of Wallace’s earlier letters in which the author discussed the publication of The Broom of the System, and the grind of literary academia.