Auctions | March 25, 2019

Pioneering and Influential Women at Bonhams Fine Books Sale

London — Novels, letters and photographs by pioneering and influential women from Josephine Bonaparte to J K Rowling feature in Bonhams Fine Books, Manuscripts, Atlases and Historical Photographs sale in London on Wednesday 27 March.

Bonhams Book department specialist Sarah Lindberg said: “We always have a good selection of work by women in our Books and Manuscripts sales, but the March sale is especially strong with letters from figures as diverse as Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone with the Wind, and the Empress Josephine, and images by the pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. The newly-discovered fragment of a short story by Mary Shelley is particularly interesting. It was published as ‘By The Author of Frankenstein’ - not as an imaginative piece of marketing - but because her father-in-law not only refused ever to meet her, but insisted the family name be kept out of the press.”

Items include:

The Authors

  • A letter from Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949), author of the best-selling Gone with the Wind, to an Englishwoman who had written to her about reading the novel in bomb shelters during the Blitz. “Your letter meant a great deal to me as the author of Gone with the Wind, but even more to me as Margaret Marsh Mead, a woman.” Mead was volunteering for the Red Cross, making dressings and garments to be sent to England. She writes, “I will take your letter to the Red Cross and read it to my fellow-workers. Your words will make them realize afresh the courage of English people.”  Gone with the Wind has sold 30 million copies worldwide and was recently voted America’s favourite book after the Bible.  Estimate: £2,000-4,000.
  • A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (1965-) that belonged to the writer’s first literary agent, Christopher Little. The book, first published in 1997, has sold more than 120 million copies worldwide and has been translated into more than 80 languages. Estimate: £40,000-60,000.
  • The newly discovered handwritten manuscript of part of The Invisible Girl, a semi-autobiographical short story by Mary Shelley (1797-1851). Estimate: £2,000-4,000.

The Pioneers  

  • A letter from the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), written during the Crimean War (1853-1856) to Eliza Smith, a retired nurse who had gone to the Crimea in 1854 with Nightingale. Smith saved Florence’s life in 1855 after the latter fell dangerously ill. In the letter, Nightingale asks for Smith to come at once as …”we have 250 wounded just arriving and I want you for a few hours to see after them…” Estimate: £1,000-1,500.
  • Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879), one of the great photographers of the 19th century, who pioneered the idea of photography as art.  Her soft-focus style and closely cropped portraits were crticised at the time, but have greatly influenced later generations of photographers. Her portrait of the co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, William Holman Hunt, is estimated at £1,000-1,500, and The Beauty of Holiness (a signed and inscribed portrait of Freddie Gould, son of a local fisherman on the Isle of Wight where Cameron had a house) at £1,500-2,500.

The Tastemaker

  • A letter from the Empress Josephine (1763-1814) authorizing her agent to buy the Château de Malmaison, west of Paris. Napoleon was abroad conducting the Egyptian campaign at the time, and on his return fell out with Josephine over the purchase. Josephine had paid too much for the dilapidated estate on the mistaken assumption that her husband would come back laden with war treasure. Malmaison was given to Josephine on her divorce from Napoleon in 1810 and she lived there until her death in 1814. Estimate £4,000-6,000.