Abandoned no more

A complete draft of "Summer Crossing," Truman Capote's unpublished first novel, surfaces after decades in storage.


Dan Glaister
December 1, 2004 7:56PM (UTC)

An unpublished first novel by Truman Capote, long thought lost, has been found in a box of photographs and documents abandoned by the author in 1966. The handwritten manuscript of the novel, "Summer Crossing," goes on sale on Friday at Sotheby's in New York, where it carries an estimated price of $60,000 to $80,000.

"Summer Crossing," the story of a young socialite's summer in New York, was thought to have been abandoned by the then 20-year-old author in 1944, when he started to write the novel that would make his name, "Other Voices, Other Rooms." But the manuscript for sale this week is a completed work, running to 200 pages with an additional 89 pages of corrections and additional material.

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"It's kind of a pre-'Breakfast at Tiffany's,'" Sotheby's vice president for books and manuscripts, Julian Caldwell, told the Associated Press. Calling the surfacing of the novel "a remarkable literary discovery," he added: "It will undoubtedly provide invaluable insights into this major writer's formative years, as work on the novel occupied Capote both before and after his first published novel."

The manuscript emerged in a box of material owned by the author's former housesitter. Capote hired the housesitter to look after his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment while he was in Switzerland writing his nonfiction book "In Cold Blood." When that work, published in 1966, made him rich, he closed his Brooklyn apartment, telling the landlord he was abandoning any belongings left there. The housesitter found the box of manuscripts and photographs on the pavement outside the apartment.

Capote started the novel in 1943 while working for the New Yorker. After being fired at the end of the year by the magazine's editor, Harold Ross, he returned to his childhood home in Alabama to finish the story of 17-year-old socialite Grady Menil. But in December of the following year, he is quoted in Gerald Clarke's biography as saying: "I said good night, locked myself in my room, tossed the manuscript of 'Summer Crossing' into a bottom bureau drawer, collected several sharp pencils and a fresh pad of yellow lined paper, got into bed fully clothed and, with pathetic optimism, wrote: 'Other Voices, Other Rooms -- a novel by Truman Capote.'"

The publication of that novel in 1948 brought Capote immediate success, but he continued to work on "Summer Crossing" for an additional two years, taking it on his travels to Europe and north Africa. In 1949 Capote bought himself a suit made of gray raw silk to celebrate the completion of a third of the novel. But by the following year, when he moved to Sicily to write "The Grass Harp," he had decided to abandon it.

In 1953 Capote wrote: "As for 'Summer Crossing' I tore it up long ago -- anyway it was never finished." But the documents on sale this week constitute a complete first draft, according to Sotheby's. Whether 'Summer Crossing' will ever be published is a matter for his literary executor, Alan Schwartz.

Clarke said that the wishes of the author, who died in 1984, should be observed. "This may not be something that should be published, because Truman himself did not feel it was worth publishing," he told the AP. "But it would still be of interest to writers and scholars."

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Dan Glaister

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