Published: July 19, 2011
On July 14 in a packed saleroom at Sotheby’s, the earliest surviving manuscript for a novel by Jane Austen The Watsons †sold for $1,601,218, triple its presale high estimate, following extended bidding among four bidders. The most important Jane Austen item to come to the market in more than 20 years was finally won, to a round of applause, by a bidder in the room on behalf of an institution. The total for Sotheby’s entire sale of English literature and history was $4,762,851.
Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s senior specialist, books and manuscripts department, commented, “We are thrilled by this sale of the only major Austen manuscript remaining in private hands. In the weeks before the sale we have been reminded of the remarkably international appeal of Austen, one of Britain’s greatest authors. The sale of The Watsons has afforded an extremely broad audience an insight into the author’s writing process and reworkings, which this manuscript uniquely displays.”
Probably written in 1804, this heavily corrected draft represents the earliest surviving manuscript for a novel by Jane Austen. The work, which was not published during her lifetime and remains incomplete, provides a fascinating insight into both her writing practices and her development into one of Britain’s greatest authors. It affords the reader an unparalleled glimpse into the very act of creation, with all the hesitations and explorations of the author’s mind laid bare. None of the manuscripts of Jane Austen’s completed novels survive, with the exception of two draft chapters of Persuasion (at the British Library), Austen’s juvenile work Lady Susan (at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York) and the fragment Sanditon (at King’s College, Cambridge), the only other autograph novel manuscript of comparable length.
Achieving a record at auction for any item of football memorabilia was a copy of the earliest rules of club football †sold as part of the historic archive of the world’s oldest football club, Sheffield †which fetched $1,420,663 . This unique piece of sporting history, which represents a crucial step towards the evolution of the modern game of association football, was bought by an anonymous telephone bidder.
Additional sale highlights include a record for the sale at auction of any edition of any of the Brontë novels with the sale of a rare first edition of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights , which sold for $388,430. Sold together with Agnes Grey , a novel by Ellis Bell and Agnes Grey, Wuthering Heights is consistently among the three best-selling novels in the English language.
A further sale highlight was James Joyce’s wartime family passport, issued by the British consul-general at Zurich, Switzerland, to allow “Mr Joyce, and wife Mrs Nora Joyce to pass freely without let or hindrance,” which sold for $98,660. This highly evocative and personal Joyce document records the author’s international movements during the period of his greatest creative intensity, spanning the complete writing of his great masterpiece Ulysses, from its first mention on December 6, 1916, to its final completion on October 29, 1921.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, +44 20 7293 5000 or www.sothebys.com .
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