Auctions | March 28, 2013

Largest and Most Important Faulkner Archive at Sotheby’s

28 March 2013 — Sotheby’s is pleased to offer the largest and most important group of William Faulkner material ever to appear at auction on 11 June 2013. Estimated to fetch over $2 million, Property from the Descendants of William Faulkner contains a highly personal selection of letters, manuscript drafts, and drawings, providing a remarkable window into key moments of the celebrated author’s life, including his time in Paris in the 1920s as well as receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.  Further glimpses into the private life of this public figure are offered by intimate gifts the author prepared by for his wife and daughter.  A portion of the collection was only recently discovered on his family’s property in Virginia, including a number of items previously feared lost.  Highlights will be on view at Sotheby’s Paris in late May and in New York in advance of the June sale.

“This archive is remarkable for the new insight it provides into how Faulkner explored his artistic future in 1920s Paris, how his principles informed the content of his novels, and how he struggled with life in Hollywood, among other topics,” commented Justin Caldwell, Vice President in Sotheby’s Books & Manuscripts Department.  “The intimate nature of so many of these items speaks to Faulkner’s enduring relevance today, not only as one of the most important American authors of the 20th century, but as a writer who remains an essential figure to everyone from President Obama to Martin Scorsese, Oprah Winfrey to, French President François Hollande and most currently James Franco, who is currently starring in and directing a film adaptation of As I Lay Dying.”

The highlight of the sale is an early handwritten draft of Faulkner’s highly acclaimed 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech along with the Nobel medal and diploma (est. in excess of $500,000, top of page 1 and left). Faulkner conceived the draft while staying at the Algonquin Hotel in New York en route to the ceremony in Oslo, and the draft is penned on the hotel’s letterhead.  The draft contains significant differences from the final draft he read from, and his spoken words were different still, illustrating the evolution of this important speech. 

In contrast to Faulkner’s public and broad-ranging Nobel speech that addressed the troubled world of the time, the sale also includes highly personal texts such as the series of 16 letters and 10 autograph postcards signed from Faulkner to his mother and family members while he was living in Paris in the 1920s (est. $250/350,000, right). The author describes the literary scene and reveals more personal details such as his discovery of French cuisine and the fact that he decided to grow a beard. Faulkner’s relationship with France is particularly poignant as he would go on to be celebrated by the country (and still is today), receiving the Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur in 1951, also up for sale in June (est. $25/35,000). A further highlight is 25 volumes of his work bound in blue morocco leather, given as a Christmas gift to his daughter Jill in 1953, which are inscribed and signed (est. $300/400,000). 

Some of the material in the sale was only recently discovered on his family’s property in Virginia including a completely unpublished 12 page short story entitled The Trapper’s Story (est. $30/50,000, left) about a young man from the country that falls in love and moves to the city.  Also recently revealed is the original book of poetry called Vision in Spring that Faulkner wrote and bound for his wife which was only published in 1984 from a poor quality photocopy; the original thought to be lost until now (est. $100/150,000). 

Another deeply personal item is Faulkner’s eulogy for Caroline Barr, known as ‘Mammy Callie’ - the former slave who became his nanny and who informed so much of his outlook on racial politics (est. $20/30,000).  Although the eulogy was published in 1940, the present typescript with autograph corrections reveals subtle differences.   

The sale will also include the manuscript for the short story Hog Pawn, with autograph annotations and corrections, which Faulkner originally wrote for the Knights Gambit Collection, although it was never included (est. $15/20,000). 




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Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.


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