It seems that dogs do sometimes eat homework in real life. And even John Steinbeck’s homework at that.
Included in a Bonhams New York (28/27/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) sale devoted to the internationally acclaimed author was a fragment of the manuscript for Of Mice And Men.
Steinbeck wrote to his agent on May 27, 1936, about the incident and the literary criticism of his beloved dog Toby: “Minor tragedy stalked. My setter pup, left alone one night, made confetti of about half of my manuscript book. Two months work to do over again. It set me back. There was no other draft. I was pretty mad, but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically.”
Estimated at $2000-3000, the page not entirely chewed and swallowed by Toby closed at $10,000 (£8000).
Steinbeck has the most American of origin stories. Growing up modestly in rural Salinas, California, he attended but did not graduate from Stanford University, and overcame early failure to emerge as one of his generation’s most insightful writers.
He had been the third of four children and particularly close in age and affection to his youngest sister Mary. Coupled with items accrued by Steinbeck niece Joan and her bibliophile husband David Heyler, it was essentially her collection of her brother’s letters, manuscripts and inscribed first editions that came to market on October 25.
Some of these were deeply personal, such as a heartbreaking letter Steinbeck wrote to his two sons on the occasion of his divorce from their mother, dated January 4, 1949.
It said: “My sons - you are little boys now, very little boys. And it occurs to me that by one kind of accident or another you and I will never know one another. It would be silly of me to say that I feel death blowing down my neck, but silly or not it is so. And if it was not so, the chance of my surviving until you are old enough to have some curiosity about your father, is remote.”
The letter was probably never sent. It was estimated at $3000-5000 but hammered at $15,000 (£11,950).
Steinbeck’s first unabashed success had been Tortilla Flat - a tale of ‘paisanos’ enjoying life and wine in Monterey in the days after the end of First World War.
Inscribed For Mary with Bill - with love John Steinbeck, a 1935 first edition copy with dust jacket was guided at $15,000-25,000 but made $45,000 (£35,900). Laid into the book is a clipping from the LA Times, June 5, 1936, reporting that the novel had won the gold medal awarded by the Commonwealth Club of California.
Published later in 1936 was In Dubious Battle, the more politicised story of a fruit-workers’ strike in a Californian valley town. At the time a reviewer in The New York Times wrote: “You would never know that In Dubious Battle was by the same John Steinbeck if the publishers did not tell you so.”
The copy here was a first edition with its dust jacket that had evidently been picked up by David Heyler in a second-hand bookstore in the 1950s.
On the front flyleaf Steinbeck had written For Joan & David, John Steinbeck while alongside the dealer’s pencilled in price of $8.50 he had added a parenthetical: what a price for a proletarian book. Guided at $6000-9000, it also sold at $42,000 (£33,500).
The top price of the 107 lots was bid for a massive trove of personal correspondence from Steinbeck to Mary and other family members. The correspondence, most by hand with some later examples typewritten, chronicled the writer’s feelings and experiences, triumphs and downfalls, and other personal matters. It hammered within estimate at $200,000 (£160,000).