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Lot 446

Sold for £ 10,800 (US$ 14,121) inc. premium
Remaining papers of Mary Benson, relating principally to her friendship and collaboration with Athol Fugard, comprising:

(i) Series of over 80 often lengthy letters by Athol Fugard in South Africa to Mary Benson, his "spiritual sister", in exile in London, nearly all autograph (one or two typed), running from 1962 to 1989, the bulk dating from the period 1963-7, written "in white heat and straight from the heart of my very considerable love for you", chronicling his "struggle with the dark angel, my muse" from the aftermath of The Blood Knot onwards, especially Hello and Goodbye and The Coat; with long meditations on "our desolate and absurd (and beautiful) existence", and the plight of their South Africa ("...Has this poor, blighted country ever been uglier Mary? Is it possible for the stain of injustice on this earth to be deeper? I don't think so. At some moment in the new play Milly says: 'When the worst becomes worse.' We have reached that point - a madness in which degrees of comparison lose their meaning. The worst has come, and can only get worse./ Yes, S.A. is ugly - so ugly that even those who really love her are now beginning to hate - AND THIS IS TRAGIC! Never before has the need for love been greater. I am not indulging in fanciful imagery. The fate of the unloved thing is real, terribly real. Milly's cri de coeur is a cry from the heart of all that lives./ This is all I can do now, with my life. There is a heart-breaking lot of talk in Johannesburg about leaving... Believe this Mary: I would do more good with my life if from now until the day I died I did nothing more than walked, every day, the length of some back street, in some town or dorp, and loved what I saw..." June 1963); together with incomplete letters and fragments, over 200 pages, folio and 4to, some creasing and tears but overall in good condition, nearly all from South Africa, 1963-1989

(ii) Collection of diary notes and records of conversations and meetings with Fugard, carbons of letters to the Fugards, letters and postcards (series) by Fugard's wife, the poet Sheila Fugard, a typed letter by Lewis Nkosi ("...I am afraid time is running out for me. I am 21 this year, and I am all impatient to get something done. I want to write - seriously...") and the carbon of Benson's letter to Kenneth Tynan on his behalf, carbon of Benson's Times article 'Athol Fugard and "The Bloodknot"', photocopies of prison letters to her by Nelson Mandela, and similar material, some interspersed with Fugard's letters (above)

(iii) Envelope with numerous photographs and negatives of Fugard, his family, and his actors in performance (including photographs taken by Benson in rehearsal in South Africa and London, one of John Kani and Fugard in The Island, London 1973 [illustrated])

(iv) Concertina file of newsclippings, programmes and other material, including notes and correspondence relating to Benson's edition of Fugard's Notebooks


  • A REMARKABLE SERIES FROM THE LEADING PLAYRIGHT OF THE APARTHEID ERA TO HIS 'SPIRITUAL SISTER', IN EXILE IN LONDON; a series in which Fugard voices his most fundamental concerns to a comrade-in-arms who not only shared his detestation of apartheid, but who was passionately committed to the theatre, and in whom he was able to repose complete trust: "Forgive, dear adopted-sister, a strange turning to what I hoped was going to be a cheerful and mundane (for a change) letter... anything I say to you in these letters or otherwise is said to you - and is yours, for what it['s] worth, never mine - to use, remember or forget, just as you wish".

    The human-rights campaigner Mary Benson (1919-2000) was born in Pretoria, and, as well as being friends with Alan Paton and other writers, was the confidante and biographer of Nelson Mandela, doing more than anyone to keep his name before the public during his years of imprisonment. From 1950 to 1957 she worked with Michael Scott at the African Bureau in London, and in 1957 became Secretary of the Treason Trials Defence Fund. In 1963 she became the first South African to testify at the Committee on Apartheid at the United Nations, and in February 1966 was banned and placed under house arrest, being forced into exile soon afterwards. She was at the very first performance of Athol Fugard's The Blood Knot, and thereafter he would send her drafts of new work for approval, collaborating with her in producing his plays in Britain, America and South Africa. She edited his Notebooks in 1983 (see above). She donated the papers gathered in researching Athol Fugard and Barney Simon: Bare Stage, a Few Props, Great Theatre, comprising programmes and the like, to the National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown in 1997; while her research papers for The African Patriots: The Story of the African National Congress of South Africa (1963) were deposited by her with the School of African and Oriental Studies in 1976 as part of the Southern African Materials Project. Her autobiography, A Far Cry, was published in 1996. Twelve letters by her are among the Fugard Papers at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington (Box 1, folder 4).
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