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Item 666 - Boris Pasternak Catalog 434 (Aug 2014)

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Minimum Bid: $500.00
Sold Price: $13,174.88 (includes buyer's premium)


Unsigned autograph manuscript in Russian, one page both sides, 9.25 x 12.5, no date. This manuscript, handwritten by Pasternak, is a draft of his translator’s preface to Hamlet, in which he describes his initial reluctance to undertake the task of translating the play, despite several requests from theaters; he discusses his change of heart and his personal modus operandi, which was to translate the work with only dictionaries and commentaries to help him, and only then to consult the work of other Russian translators. Draft includes numerous pencil notations and corrections. The great majority is in purple ink, with a few lines in pencil written on a separate slip and affixed at the conclusion. In very good condition, with central vertical and horizontal folds (small separations at edges) and scattered toning.

Commissioned in 1939 by renowned Soviet director Vsevolod Meyerhold to translate Hamlet for a production at Leningrad’s Pushkin Theater, it would be over fifteen years before Pasternak’s accomplishment would finally see a stage. At a time of ever-increasing persecution and censorship of the arts, the project suffered a series of major blows, beginning with the arrest and execution of Meyerhold at the beginning of 1940. Already deeply involved in his translation, Pasternak completed his work despite the tragic loss of his friend and patron, and soon caught the attention of a founder of the Moscow Art Theatre. With new preparations for production immediately underway, the realities of life in Moscow again interfered; dismissed by Stalin as a ‘decadent’ play, rehearsals were put on hold in 1941. As World War II took hold of the Soviet Union the following year, Hamlet was shelved indefinitely. It was not until 1954—a year after Stalin’s death—that it would finally debut at the theatre for which it was initially intended, Leningrad’s Pushkin Theatre. (Despite his excitement over the event, Pasternak remained busy at work on Doctor Zhivago and missed the play’s opening night.) Though difficult to date, as Pasternak’s Hamlet went through twelve revised editions over the course of two decades, this is an absolutely remarkable draft that maintains relevancy throughout his entire career. Discussing his highly important translation work—still considered by many the best translations of Shakespeare into Russian—this is arguably the finest piece we have offered from the highly sought-after Nobel winner. Pre-certified PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.

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