November 9, 2016

Rare Flaubert Manuscript Goes to Auction


I see now where the blotches come from

I see now where the blotches come from

It must be a slow news week here in the United States, because I’ve been reading an awful lot about rare books overseas. And the latest edition is a real zinger: a handwritten manuscript from canonical French novelist Gustave Flaubert.

The specimen, a compilation of the author’s travel notes from his 1848 walks through Brittany, confirms the long-held belief that Flaubert, far from a one-take kind of guy, was a meticulous re-writer and reviser. According to a  story  in the Guardian by Kim Willsherthe manuscript “is page after page of scratched out notes, smudges, comments and ink blots that reveal just how arduous the French novelist Gustave Flaubert found the writing process.” Those blots and smudges were expected to pull down £530,000 at auction on Tuesday.

The manuscript comes from the collection of Pierre Bergé, best known for his role as co-founder of the Yves Saint Laurent fashion house, but notable as well for his world-class library and art collection. Tuesday’s sale, for which Bergé’s company has paired with Sotheby’s, represents the second of four planned sales of Bergé’s library. And there’s much more to the lot, which may fetch historic prices. To return to the Guardian piece:

There is also a collection of books by Balzac, Dumas and Sand from the Duchess of Berry’s chateau, including 10 original editions, estimated at €80,000; an original The Three Musketeers in three volumes by Dumas, estimated at €40,000; and rare editions of books by Keats, Marx, Pushkin, Schopenhauer, Shelley, Stendhal, Chekhov and Dostoevsky. An edition of Salomé by Oscar Wilde dedicated “To my friend Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, the translator of my play”, will also be sold.

Even among that treasure trove, the Flaubert stands out for never having been published, and, of course, for being in the author’s own hand — a truly rare literary artifact.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.