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Rare 1930s letters from author Sir Hugh Walpole to sell at Wolverhampton auction

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Cuttlestones’ Tom Waldron with the letters penned by the
prolific 20th Century novelist Sir Hugh Walpole to a young
family friend, who aspired to follow in his literary footsteps.

Two letters from the New-Zealand born writer Sir Hugh Seymour Walpole (1884 – 1941), whose novels included Mr Perrin and Mr Traill, are set to come under the hammer at a Specialist Collectors’ Auction on Friday, 21st June 2013.


Despite a prolific career that saw him publish some thirty-six novels, five volumes of short stories, two plays and three volumes of memoirs, Walpole’s legacy has somewhat fallen by the wayside since his death in 1941. A best-selling author in the 1920s and 30s with a loyal following on both sides of the Atlantic, he was also a well-regarded lecturer and worked as a screenwriter during Hollywood’s golden era.


The letters in question were written in the 1930s while Walpole was working at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios – they are type-set on the studio letterhead – and shed an interesting light on the author’s early life as he reflects on his experiences whilst offering advice to an aspiring writer. Affectionately signed off “Your loving Uncle” and referring to the recipient – one Cadwallader Evans III – as ‘bro’, despite being no blood relation, they highlight the close friendship between the two men.


In the first letter, dated 6th July 1934, Walpole informs Evans of his recent poor health before going on to discourage Evans from visiting because of his busy schedule, but asking him to maintain their written correspondence:


I am only just out of hospital. Shortly after I got here I developed bad sinus trouble and have had, to tell you the truth, a very, very poor time, although I’m better now.”


“It would be of little use, your coming out here, as I’m at work every day the whole day… It is possible that I may be here for a long time. In any case, I will write soon again when I’ve quite recovered and tell you all my news. Do write to me like a good boy. You don’t know how I should love to get a letter.”


In the second letter, dated 8th May 1936, it becomes evident that Evans came to view Walpole as his literary inspiration and mentor; the latter offering advice as to where to study and how to pursue a career as a writer:


It is very hard for me with my English upbringing to know what to advise you. I myself wasted my time completely at school and learned very little at college either. But all the while I was writing very hard on my own. Very bad it was, but I expect it was good experience. Anyhow, I had a sense that I was being driven forward and had very little choice in the matter. In fact, I had [underlined in black ink] no choice because my parents were poor and I had to go where I won a scholarship whether I liked it or no. Part of your trouble comes, I think, from being able to make so free a choice…”


A later extract from the same letter concludes:


Perhaps Columbia would be the best thing for you, if you are sure that you have enough self discipline. London certainly didn’t distract me when I was young. But I had such a passion for writing that nothing, even being at the front during the war, has been able to stop it. If you have that passion, nothing will stop you [underlined]. I fear that this isn’t very satisfactory, but I’d rather given up advising my younger friends. It all depends, I think, on whether you have a real creative talent or not. If you have, nothing will stop you. If you haven’t, you’ll find that out soon.”


Despite Walpole’s sage advice, Evans never got the opportunity to pursue his dream career. He tragically drowned whilst swimming the Hellespont strait in Turkey during a world tour whilst still a college student. His great friend and mentor would die of a heart attack two years later.


Included with the letters is a short biography of Evans, written by the US-based vendor who is a younger relative, highlighting how Walpole was a close friend of the family. A number of associated newspaper clippings complete the lot, which will sell on 21st June at Cuttlestones’ Wolverhampton Auction Rooms as part of its Specialist Collectors’ Auction.


Viewing will be from 10am – 7pm on Thursday, 20th June and the morning of the sale, with the catalogue available online at from Friday, 14th June. For those unable to attend on the day of the sale, telephone, commission and live internet bidding options are available. For further information call 01902 421985.

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