Sotheby’s to Auction Archive of Noble Prize Winner Naguib Mahfouz

Sotheby’s London will offer for sale a major cache of manuscripts by Naguib Mahfouz, probably the most important Egyptian novelist of the 20th century and the only Arab writer to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The archive estimated at £50,000 – £70,000, will be sold in the English Literature, History, Private Press, Children’s Books and Illustrations sale on 15th December 2011. This extraordinarily rich and diverse group of manuscripts spans seven decades of the author’s career, from the 1930s to his death in 2006.

Dr Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s Senior Manuscripts Specialist said: “It is an immense honour to be offering what is to the best of our knowledge, the first manuscript material by Naguib Mahfouz to appear at public auction – much of it previously unpublished. Throughout his life, Mahfouz constantly revisited his great subject, the city of Cairo and what is perhaps most fascinating about these manuscripts, which include material from the very beginning and the end of his career, is how we can observe the style of this great writer continually evolving.”

Naguib Mahfouz’s long and distinguished career spanned almost 80 years, but he is best known for his 1950s works the Cairo Trilogy and The Children of Gebelawi. His 1988 Nobel citation described how, “through works rich in nuance – now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous – [he] has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind.”

The vibrant life of Cairo’s alleys – its café culture, friendships and the love affairs of its inhabitants – are the main subject of the early stories and fragments in the collection, none of which appears in any of Mahfouz’s major collections, and which may therefore be unpublished. For example, one of the earliest pieces “In Search of a Husband”, dated 1937, is reminiscent of the stories in Mahfouz’s 1938 collection Hams al-junun [The Whisper of Madness]. A volume of philosophical notes are also significant, as they are evidence of Mahfouz’s early ambitions to write a philosophical work.

The archive also includes the manuscripts of a substantial portion of Mahfouz’s later writing. In October 1994 the writer was stabbed in the neck by a Fundamentalist incensed by alleged blasphemy in The Children of Gebelawi. The subsequent nerve damage left Mahfouz unable to write for several years and the long-term effects of the attack are evident in his later, unsteady handwriting. Mahfouz’s last works were a series of short narratives, of around a paragraph in length, which take the form of dreams. Displaying his mastery of compression and drawing on the ancient Arabic tradition of dream interpretation, the Dreams have since been gathered into book form.

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