Auctions | April 4, 2016

Handwritten Working Notes by Boris Pasternak for "Dr. Zhivago" at Bonhams NY

5YI1L26 copy.jpgHandwritten working notes for two chapters of one of the 20th century’s most controversial novels, Dr Zhivago, are among a host of fascinating literary gems at Bonhams Fine Literature Sale in New York on 11 April.

The book’s author, Boris Pasternak (1890-1860), gave the notes for safe-keeping to the woman who inspired the novel’s central character, Lara, and whom had been imprisoned in the gulags under Stalin. The notes estimated at £28,000-42,000 ($40,000 - 60,000). 

The recipient of the notes - which cover events in chapters three and four of the published work - was Pasternak’s mistress, the poet Olga Ivinskaya, who worked at Noyi Mir, a leading literary magazine. Pasternak wrote on the cover of the composition book ‘Olga please save as is. 7 May 1956’.

Dr Zhivago is set in Russia between the 1905 Revolution and the Civil War of the early 1920s. Through the experiences of its central characters, the novel offers a complex and nuanced account of the period, especially the October 1917 revolution and its aftermath.  Rejected by the literary magazine Novy Mir for deviating from the tenets of Social Realism, the manuscript was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and published in Italy in 1957. The first English translation appeared in the USA in 1958. 

The novel and its author then became pawns in the Cold War.  Recognising its propaganda value, the CIA arranged for a Russian translation and Pasternak was denounced in his homeland as anti-Soviet. The novelist was awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature which he initially accepted until the Soviet government forced him to turn it down. The prize was not, however, awarded to anybody else that year and 30 years later, Pasternak’s son Yevgeny was able to collect it at a ceremony in Stockholm.

Bonhams Director of Business Development for Books and Manuscripts in New York, Tom Lamb said, “Examples of manuscript chapters of Dr Zhivago very rarely become available.  This is an important addition to our understanding of a novel of great literary and political significance.”

The sale also includes the signed typescript of ten of the 25 “Lara” poems which appear in Dr Zhivago. Pasternak worked on his great novel on and off for several years - the very earliest fragments date from the first decade of the 20th century - although most of the poems seem to have been written in the mid to late 1940s. The typescript, which is estimated at £21,000 - 28,000 ($30,000 - 40,000), is inscribed to his friend Iuri Aleksandrovich Afanasiev. 

Other highlights

Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels

Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical novel, Desolation Angels, published in 1965 weaves together material the author had been gathering from 1956 onwards. The sale includes the typed manuscript, with the author’s handwritten amendments, of notes he had made in Mexico in June 1961 for a work he had provisional entitled, An American Passed Here. It describes his recollections of an earlier trip to Mexico City in 1957. Some of the events find their way into the final two chapters of Desolation Angels though many of them are omitted. Kerouac (1922-1960) was proposing to use the discarded material in Beat Spotlight the novel he was working on at the time of his death in 1969. The typescript from 1964 is estimated at £14,000-21,000 ($20,000-30,000).

Jack London’s manuscript

Work by an earlier American master storyteller, Jack London (1876-1916), features in the sale in the form of his handwritten, signed manuscript for A Curious Fragment. This fascinating science fiction story - the tale is set in the 26th century when rampant capitalism has created a world of ruthless oligarchs and downtrodden workers shorn of all rights - is one of only five Jack London short stories to appear at auction in the past 40 years. It is estimated at £17,500- 25,000 ($25,000-35,000).

Image: Boris Pasternak's notes for Dr Zhivago, estimated at £28,000-42,000 ($40,000 - 60,000).