A private notebook of Welsh giant Dylan Thomas, dated to 1934-35 but left forgotten in his mother-in-law’s house before being saved from burning by her maid and kept among her effects for some 70 years, has now gone on sale through Sotheby’s of London and may shed light on his personal creative process – long a puzzle because of the young poet’s striking precocity. Thomas composed most of the poems he is famous for while in his teens, and up till now, many of those, some 200 verses, were preserved in just four notebooks from the period 1930-34. And now there is a fifth.
The newly recovered notebook dates from Thomas’s 20th year, and apparently remained in use until he was 21. It contains 19 handwritten poems, some with extensive revisions and corrections, indicating that Thomas, no matter how spontaneous his inspiration, actually worked over and refined his poems. According to the sale notes, “in 1934-35 he was pushing his style towards more ambitious and densely intricate works that were increasingly influenced by surrealism. The poems become increasingly complex during the course of this notebook and the texts tend to become more extensively revised.”
As for the provenance of the notebook, Sotheby’s explains:
The notebook was left at the home of Dylan Thomas’s mother-in-law, Yvonne Macnamara, in Blashford, Hampshire. Thomas spent extended periods at Blashford from October 1937 to April 1938, from November 1938 to March 1939, and from January to March 1940 … The notebook was given to Louie King (c.1904-1984), then working in the household, to incinerate in the kitchen boiler (see provenance note quoted above). It has remained in King’s family ever since.
Sotheby’s expects the notebook to sell for some £100,000 to £150,000 ($156,430 to $234,640) when it goes on sale on December 9th, with probable buyers including major research libraries.