“My Left Foot” Author’s Despairing Letter to be Sold at Bonhams

An extraordinary cry of despair by the Irish writer Christy Brown, in a letter written days before his death in 1981, forms part of an archive of material by and about the author to be sold at Bonhams sale of Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs in London on 19 March. The archive includes previously unseen sketches, paintings and unpublished poems as well as a large cache of private letters and writings. It is estimated at £30,000-40,000.

Christy Brown (1931-1981) is one of Ireland’s most enduring literary figures. He became an international celebrity with the publication of his best selling autobiography, My Left Foot, in 1954 and his work gained new recognition when a film of the book was released in 1989.  Daniel Day Lewis won the first of his three Academy Awards for Best Actor for his portrayal of the writer.

Dated 26 August 1981, and sent to Willie, Jeanie and Erin, the letter reveals a dark self knowledge and is written with lacerating candour. On his reliance on alcohol, for example, he writes bluntly, "The simple truth of the matter is that I just don't want to quit, I don't want to be 'cured' or rehabilitated, I am in love with the whole process of inebriation and shun all semblance of 'normal' life like the plague. For me a higher plane of consciousness via the bottle is not very far removed from Nirvana or complete oblivion, for then at least I can lose the tangled and precarious state of 'sanity' I find myself enmeshed in at so-called waking moments and which I'm beginning more and more to dread and detest.”

Despite his determination not to stop drinking Brown was, nonetheless, acutely aware of the damage it was doing both to himself and to those around him, “From being merely maudlin once upon a time in my cups I'm becoming increasingly aggressive, destructive and positively violent, making entirely unprovoked assaults on Mary and furniture in my booze-laden rages. It's a deplorable situation and one that cannot go on indefinitely; I'm sickenly aware of what the consequences are bound to be, but amazingly I don't seem to care or at any rate will let myself care.”

He also recognises that his powers are waning and that his life as a writer is effectively at an end, “I'm just not the man I used to be, whoever that was I've only dim recollections of that individual now, like an old friend I used to know and like with whom I've lost all contact, a memory lost to quote John Clare, another bedevilled soul who knew the insides of hell quite intimately"

Eleven days after this letter was written Christy Brown died, choking while at supper on 7 September 1981. He was 46.

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