THOMAS (DYLAN) Autograph draft of his surreal fantasy 'Prologue to an Adventure',  [c.1935]

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Lot 232
Autograph draft of his surreal fantasy 'Prologue to an Adventure', [c.1935]

Sold for £ 11,250 (US$ 15,264) inc. premium
Sold on behalf of the Trustees for the Copyrights of Dylan Thomas
Autograph draft of his surreal fantasy 'Prologue to an Adventure', here headed "One", opening: "As I walked through the wilderness of the world, as I walked through the wilderness, as I walked through the city with the loud electric faces and the crowded petrols of the wind dazzling and drowning me that winter night before the West died, I remembered the winds of the high white world that bore me and the faces of a noiseless million in the busyhood of heaven staring at the afterbirth. They who nudged through the literate light of the city, shouldered and elbowed me, catching my trilby with the spokes of their umbrellas, who offered me matches and music, made me, out of their men's eyes into a manshape walking. But take away, I told them silently, the flannel and cotton, the cheap felt and leather, I am the nakedest & baldest nothing between the pinnacle and the base, an alderman of ghosts, holding to watchchain and wallet on the wet pavement, the narrator of echoes moving in man's time..."; and ending: "Is the translator of man's manuscript, his walking chapters, said the trumpet-faced. A member of my Deadly Virtue? what is the colour of the Narrator's blood? Put a leech on his forearm. And in the glass our melon-shaped and yellow mouths bit my [? scream] to the bone. Make way, the image cried. For bald & naked Mister Dreamer of the bluest veins this side of the sea. As the sea of faces parted, the bare-backed ladies scraped back from the counter, and the matchstick-waisted men, the trussed and corsetted stilt-walkers with the tits of ladies, sought out the darker recesses of the saloon."; the first two pages written in ink, the third in pencil, with a word-count added to the first page only, 3 pages in all, on heavy-wove sketching paper, irregularly trimmed before use, with one or two light splashes of ink or watercolour on blank verso and some dust-staining or light soiling, but overall in good and attractive condition, 4to (c. 50 x 75mm.), [c.1935]


  • 'AS I WALKED THROUGH THE WILDERNESS OF THE WORLD' – AUTOGRAPH DRAFT OF THE TWENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD DYLAN THOMAS'S 'PROLOGUE TO AN ADVENTURE', a Surrealist recasting of The Pilgrim's Progress ostensibly describing a young man's road to perdition. The first mention in Thomas's correspondence of the work is in an undated letter to his fellow poet, A.E. Trick, written sometime in the summer of 1935 (by which time the self-proclaimed 'Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive' already had an outstanding body of work to his credit): 'In half an hour or less I'm going to work on my new story, "Daniel Dom"... It's based on the Pilgrim's Progress, but tells of the adventures of Anti-Christian in his travels from the City of Zion to the City of Destruction. I've been commissioned to write it, but I won't be given any money until the first half a dozen parts or chapters are completed. The agents are rather afraid of blasphemous obscenity (and well they might be), and want to see how clean the half dozen parts or chapters are before they advance me anything. The poor fish don't realise that I shall cut the objectionable bits when I send them the synopsis & first chapters, & then put them immediately back' (Paul Ferris, The Collected Letters of Dylan Thomas: New Edition, 2000, p. 220).

    The piece was first published as the leading item – with the title and first few words appearing on the cover – of the first issue of Keidrych Rhys's Modernist periodical Wales, in the summer of 1937. It was reprinted by Henry Miller's publishers, the Obelisk Press of Paris which, in Ferris's words, 'specialised in erotica and avant-garde novels (often the same thing) that weren't acceptable in London', in the Christmas 1938 issue of their magazine Delta (Letters, p. 317 fn). It was collected in book form in The World I Breath (1939), described by Thomas in 1953 as 'all very young & violent and romantic' (Letters, p. 960), and posthumously in Adventures in the Skin Trade (1955).

    The first two-thirds of our manuscript correspond fairly closely to the published version, with some revisions made which arrive at the final version, although with two passage dropped, the first a further variant of the opening reprise: "As I walked through the literate city with a name of no matter, I smoked my cigarettes and watched, through the twin holes in a shadow's mask, the tangible smoke go up and the river rain drop down in the phantom and the sharp shadow of water"; the second descriptive of the 'Bishop of Bumdom': "coprophageous the holy fathers grease on all fours down the razor-walled lanes". However radical change is introduced at the end of our second page, where the last fifteen lines have been deleted in thick pencil, and are then reworked in considerably abbreviated form; among the deleted material is the Daliesque: "Thinking to be witty I stabbed her through the titty with a hard-boiled egg, he said. She is dead. I cracked, I split, I roasted, I made an omelette out of her" (of interest perhaps, if not for its own merits, for showing just how consciously Thomas at this period was adopting the Continental Surrealist model – something that was also to be made explicit when he gave a reading alongside Paul Eluard, Samuel Beckett and David Gascoyne at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in July 1936). From this point onwards our manuscript diverges considerably from the published version, and omits the last 1500 or so words to be found in the latter.

    'Prologue to an Adventure' is the title given to the Dylan Thomas International Writing Competition, honouring the centenary of his birth, held by Poetry Wales and running until 27 June 2014. See illustration on preceding page.
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