Sotheby's London, a high end International auction house, is set to offer from private hands a fabulous Joseph Conrad Collection. Considered a highly comprehensive single author sale, from the library of the late Stanley J. Seeger., a great collector of art, the offer is to include Sylvia Plath’s annotated copy of Lord Jim. This particulat copy was read aloud to her by Ted Hughes the year before her death.
For the uninitiated, when St. Botolph’s Review, a literary magazine, was launched, Hughes was one of the co-producers, he having contributed four poems to the edition. The magazine's launch party also launched the relationship between Hughes and the American poet Sylvia Plath. She is a highly acclaimed author and poet, best known for the novel The Bell Jar, and the poetic masterpiece collections The Colossus and Ariel. Hughes married Plath four months after the magazine's launch party. Many believe Hughes' domineering character led to Plath's depression and subsequent suicide. This belief was further embedded in the popular conscience of the Hughes legacy when his second wife did the same, taking with her the life of their four-year old daughter.
Given the quality of manuscript and the significance of the authors involved, the estimates are a rare steal in the world of high end collections.
“This is the greatest single author collection pertaining to a modern writer to come to auction within living memory. The collection has been quietly but assiduously assembled with great care and devotion over a period of many decades, typical of the late Mr. Seeger," commented Peter Selley, Sotheby’s Senior Director, Senior Specialist, in Books & Manuscripts. "I have been lucky enough to have been involved in some small degree at various stages of this during my professional career, but now, seeing the library entire for the first time, I can truly appreciate the extraordinary depth and range of this collection, encompassing not only the sole remaining working autograph manuscripts by Conrad in private hands but a series of outstanding presentation and association copies, annotated proofs and rare editions."
Seeger was one of the 20th century’s greatest collectors - a perfectionist, who assembled world class collections of art, books, pottery and manuscripts, boasts Sotheby's.
Once such amassing was accomplished, he readily set them up for auction. These works ranged from Picasso to rare items from masters like Conrad. Just as quickly as he collected, he sold.
"Conrad has been translated into over 40 languages, and it is difficult to overstate his formative influence on Modern Literature and the writers, poets, cinematographers and intellectuals who followed him. His masterly use of narration, for instance, gave F. Scott Fitzgerald the idea of using Nick Carraway as the first person narrator of The Great Gatsy. He is probably England’s greatest political novelist, and the first writer to deal with the problems of terrorism and counter-espionage in a modern novel, such as The Secret Agent. It is an enormous privilege to offer these rare treasures back to the market," said Selley.
Seeger in his verve for collecting amassed, with a single-minded passion over the course of 50 years, the greatest private collection of first editions, inscribed works, manuscripts, letters and annotated proofs by the celebrated author Joseph Conrad, continues Sotheby's.
The mysterious and grand Sutton Place too played a role in Seeger's life. He for several years in the 1980s owned Sutton Place. This is one of Britain’s noblest Tudor estates. It once included more than 700 acres. Dating back to 1523, Henry VIII gave it to a courtier, Sir Richard Weston, in return for his condemnation to death of Lord Buckingham. The estate is reportedly owned today by Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who owns a 30-percent stake in the Arsenal Football Club. Usmanov was named this year the wealthiest man in Britain by The Sunday Times's annual Rich List. He is worth $15.5-billion. Usmanov is the co-owner of the mining and metals firm Metalloinvest, in addition to his major shareholdings in the Arsenal FC through Red and White Holdings, and he is the general director of Gazprom Invest Holding. Prior, Sutton Place was rented by newspaper proprietor Alfred Harmsworth and later owned by billionaire John Paul Getty, who then sold it for $17-million to US oil magnates Seeger and Frederick Koch. Seeger's companion was Christopher Cone, a staff member at Sotheby’s Belgravia branch, which specialized in Victorian art. Seeger died in Whitby, North Yorkshire, June 24, 2011 at the age of 81 of an aortic aneurysm.
"The centerpiece of the Seeger collection is the autograph working manuscript of Typhoon, one of Conrad’s greatest stories of the sea and the most important Conrad manuscript remaining in private hands, which is estimated to realise £300,000-500,000," the auction house estimates.
Other highlights include: the complete 1919 corrected typescript of Falk, one of Conrad’s most powerful short stories, estimated to take-in £30,000-50,000; A rare 1902 autograph letter in which he discusses his most famous and resonant work, Heart of Darkness, estimated at £25,000-35,000; A presentation copy of The Mirror of the Sea, inscribed to Henry James, estimated at £15,000-20,000.
Joseph Conrad was born December 3, 1857, in Berdychiv, Ukraine. He left his homeland of Poland at the age of 16 to embark on a life at sea, chiefly in the British mercantile marine. He became a naturalized British subject in 1886. His adventures on his many voyages – during which he rose through the ranks from third mate to Captain – included gun-running expeditions, storms, being shipwrecked and a formative journey to the Congo Free State. After a 20-year career he settled in England and from 1895 embarked on a literary career of great intensity and quality, producing a series of short stories, novellas and novels in English of great descriptive power, constantly examining man’s confrontation with the natural elements, his fellow man, and his own fundamental isolation. In one sense Conrad’s works are built upon the traditional literature of the sea reflecting Britain’s rich maritime heritage across the centuries: his stories, with their diverse and exotic locations, pay tribute, in his own words, to “the imperishable sea, to the ships that are no more, and to the simple men who have had their day” (Author’s Note to The Mirror of the Sea). He influenced such great masters as Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Madox Ford, among others.
"His works are simultaneously pioneering works of modernist fiction, initiating new narrative structures, and offering profound imaginative critiques of the politics of colonialism, imperialism and the emerging forces of terrorism and counter-espionage at the dawn of the twentieth century. Conrad’s major phase as a writer was between 1897 and 1911 and includes such works as The Nigger of The Narcissus, Youth, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, Typhoon, Nostromo, The Secret Agent, The Secret Sharer and Under Western Eyes," says Sotheby's.
The centrepiece of the collection is the autograph draft manuscript of Typhoon, which is replete with evidence of the author’s imagination at work. Conrad’s revisions to nearly every page - copious additions and corrections - reveal his struggle to find adequate expression for his tale of man’s confrontation with the pitiless ferocity of the sea. Typhoon has a clarity and formal simplicity unique among Conrad’s shorter fictions and taken with the accompanying corrected typescript, which was produced simultaneously; these are the witnesses to the development of one of Conrad’s greatest tales.
"The partial typescript of one of Conrad’s most powerful short stories, Falk, (1919) contains substantial autograph revisions and corrections to all but one page," says Sotheby's. "The eponymous Falk is a tugboat captain who makes the gruesome confession to the narrator that 'I have eaten man.' Starving on a stranded ship, he had killed and eaten other members of the crew to survive. In 1919, upon finding this 60-page typescript, Conrad reflected, 'I myself was surprised to see what a lot of work I put into that story.'"
A letter by Conrad discussing his most famous and resonant work Heart of Darkness, which was the basis for Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam film Apocalypse Now, provides a fascinating analysis of the character of Kurtz.
The letter, written to Elsie Hueffer, the wife of Conrad’s collaborator, Ford Herman Hueffer, later Ford Madox Ford, responds in detail to her criticisms of the work, according to Sotheby's.
Conrad explains, “What I distinctly admit is the fault of having made Kurtz too symbolic or rather symbolic at all.”
The Collection contains a number of significant presentation copies of Conrad’s first editions which offer revealing insights into his relationships with other literary figures and characters in his private life. An exceptional Conrad association copy of the first edition of The Mirror of the Sea (1906), inscribed to the author Henry James, provides an important historical link to another of the great novelists of the Edwardian era.
"This extremely rare book is the first inscribed by Conrad to James to be offered at auction in over 30-years and contains a long dedicatory note in French. The book, the only one by Conrad devoted solely to the sea, as well as his first volume of autobiography, contains a number of essays on sea life," says the auction house.
Also offered is a major presentation copy of The Shadow Line. A Confession was inscribed by Conrad to the French author, André Gide in March 1917, its month of publication.
"Conrad referred to Gide as 'Master and Friend,' and they corresponded regularly and exchanged editions of their works, sharing professional and personal news," reports Sotheby's. "Gide took a great interest in Conrad’s reception in France and translated Typhoon into French. This manuscript translation is also offered in the sale. A magnificent association copy of Almayer’s Folly. A Story of an Eastern River (1895), inscribed by Conrad to his last captain, W.H. Cope, is expected to achieve £8,000-12,000."
Captain Cope was the “whiskered, stout old captain” of the Torrens, the ship on which Conrad executed his last duties as a sailor as Chief Officer from 1891-92. It was during this voyage that the author worked on this, his “first attempt at writing."
All of these rare and important works from Seeger’s sought after and private library are to be offered by Sotheby’s London in two sales – the first of which is to take place on July 10, 2013.