Though that Bonhams (25/20/12.5% buyer’s premium) sale of March 21 included personal effects, a few bits of furniture, etc, it focused principally on their literary lives and achievements.
An interesting appreciation of the two poets by Grey Gowrie, aka Grey Ruthven, 2nd Earl of Gowrie, a former chairman of Sotheby’s and the Arts Council and himself a poet, appears in the spring issue of the Bonhams house magazine*.
Matthew Haley of the book department also sums up the manner in which the top lot, Sylvia’s novel The Bell Jar, had its beginnings.
Written in just 70 days and completed in August 1961, the first draft was turned down by American publishers, but was picked up in England by Heinemann – who in 1960 had published Plath’s The Colossus and other Poems.
It was scheduled to be pseudonymously published on January 14, 1963, as the work of a Victoria Lucas.
Containing around 70 autograph textual corrections and revisions, and inscribed with her name and the address of the Devon home she then shared with Hughes, a proof copy in plain white wrappers sold for £60,000.
Inscribed and dated Christmas 1962, some three weeks before its official release – by which time Sylvia and the children had left Hughes and moved into a London flat that was once home to WB Yeats – Sylvia’s own advance copy of the real thing was sold at £70,000.
Even the old green Hermes typewriter on which The Bell Jar had been written was offered, selling at £26,000.
It was in the newly occupied Fitzroy Road flat that Sylvia wrote and worked on the collection of poems on which her literary reputation principally rests.
Within a very few weeks, having succumbed once more to the clinical depression that she had endured for many years, she took her own life. She was just 30.
Ted Hughes edited those poems for publication in 1965 under the title Ariel and a first edition copy that he inscribed for his parents sold at £9000.
Frieda Hughes has written that her father “…honoured my mother’s work and memory in publishing Ariel… He, perhaps more than anyone, recognised and acknowledged her talent as extraordinary. Without Ariel, my mother’s literary genius might have gone unremarked for ever.”
With a thousand or so words underlined, Sylvia’s copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, a work that she treasured in her formative years, made £11,000 and an extensively marked-up favourite cookery book, a 1953 copy of Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking, reached £3000.
Among the Ted Hughes books were two first editions in dust jackets of his own first book of poems, The Hawk in the Rain of 1957 – both of them affectionately and gratefully inscribed to Sylvia as dedicatee.
Faber & Faber’s London edition sold at £23,000 and the Harper Bros New York edition, published only five days later, made £11,000.
Sold at £12,500 was the 1960 dedication copy of Lupercal, his second collection of poems, inscribed “To Sylvia, its true mother, with all my love, Ted”, while £7000 was taken for a copy of his first children’s book, Meet My Folks! of 1961, that bore a very similar inscription.
Hughes’ best-known children’s book is The Iron Man and a copy he inscribed for the dedicatee, their son Nicky, made £7500.
All the results noted above set auction records, and mostly by a considerable margin.
* The Bonhams magazine is available to view online at bonhams.com