Monday, March 26, 2007

The rarest of the rare

A glass vitrine held an exceedingly rare manuscript by one of the most famous American writers of the 20th century. Typed on yellow paper with a celebrated editor’s pencil marks in the margins, it offered a never-before-seen view of the writer’s creative process. When my jaw dropped, Horowitz quickly requested that the item be struck from the record and the author kept anonymous. But wasn’t it showcased in plain sight, begging for attention? No, he insisted, his office was private. This too seems part of the Horowitz approach, at once mystifying and demystifying the material. Like a born politician, he sometimes avoids direct answers and tends toward long, upbeat digressions. He frequently uses the word “blessedly” — collections he was blessedly able to acquire, people he was blessedly able to meet — and calls a long list of people his “very dear friend.”

However hyperbolic his style, Horowitz delivers the goods. Back in his conference room, he opened a plastic loose-leaf binder. There, in green ink on mottled cream-colored paper, was a letter Leonard Woolf wrote to Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf’s close friend and sometime lover, on March 28, 1941 — the day of the novelist’s suicide. “That one letter from Leonard to Vita touches on everything that interests us about Virginia,” Horowitz said excitedly. “The public and the private, the war and the writing — they go to the heart of the myth of Leonard as the caretaker.” The letter reached Horowitz through a member of the Sackville-West family. “Most of what we acquire comes directly from the original generators and/or the original recipients of the material generated by the writers,” he said. Half comes to him, half he seeks out. But it’s how he packages the material — turning, say, a newspaper clipping with a writer’s jottings in the margin into a significant cultural artifact — that sets him apart from less inventive dealers.

No comments: