The Black Swan

BROWN, Oliver "Nolly" Madox 1855-1874. Author and artist, son of Ford Madox Brown


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Autograph Manuscript Signed "Oliver Madox Brown", incomplete, 2 pages 8vo, n.p., n.d [probably 1871-2], written partly in pencil.

Part of a manuscript of Oliver Madox Brown's romance The Black Swan. Oliver Madox Brown had shown artistic promise at an early age; many established artists including Rossetti and Whistler were impressed by his youthful talent, and he exhibited his first work in public at the Dudley Gallery in 1869 at the age of fourteen. It was in literature, however, that he would make his lasting mark, although his premature death in 1874 from peritonitus and septicaemia meant that his ripple in history is less significant than it could have been. Brown wrote The Black Swan during the cold winter of 1871-2, the majority of which he wrote in secret before surprising his family close to its conclusion. Its bowdlerized version became Gabriel Denver but the early version is generally accepted as being far superior. This fragment of manuscript details two episodes towards the end of the tale, following the burning of the ship "The Black Swan" and the characters drifting at sea: "every object his eyes met was turned blood red & a peculiar dizzy sensation came over him at times causing him to shake as if he had had the palsey". Laura, the beautiful young love interest in the tragic triangle, lies sick and dying: "All this while Lauras [sic] slumber was uninterrupted save by the difficulties she at times experienced in her breathing, her throat was dry & rattled occasionally. Her eyes seemed shocking sunburn now that they were shut & her lips were dry & bloodless. God knows what it was that prevented Denver from killing her [. . .] once the idea came to him of so ending her suffering & his own to [sic]". In another section he changes from the physical description of the dying to one more intangible and poetic; "all mens souls are lights [?] the dusk of life by some purpose which they live for, this light was extinguished in his & now it drifted in the darkness filld [sic] with the dredfull [sic] meaning of the old song-burden, never more, all was over for it, only his body existed now". This is a remarkable, rare item as little by "Nolly"'s hand has survived.Small burn hole to centre of page, partially obscuring one word but not affecting the meaning. An annotation in pencil reads "Part of M. S. of O. M. Brown's romance "The Black Swan"".

Stock Code: 11321

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