Man with the Golden Arm. Nelson ALGREN.
Man with the Golden Arm
Man with the Golden Arm
Man with the Golden Arm
Man with the Golden Arm
"THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM": THE GENESIS OF A MODERN MASTERPIECE

Man with the Golden Arm

1946-49. Typescript working drafts, plus the final typescript used as publisher's setting copy, for The Man With The Golden Arm (published 1949), many pages of the drafts with Algren's extensive autograph additions (some on versos), corrections and deleted passages (pencil and ink); the final setting typescript with publisher's editorial markings, compositor's directions and occasional marginal notes by Algren to his editor, Ken McCormick of Doubleday.

Together 1,984 pp. (drafts: 1,444 pp., final: 540 pp.), mostly ribbon typescript (with the exception of a few carbon segments); some text typed on blank versos of letters to Algren; many sheets with additional text scrawled by Algren on versos); minor marginal tears and occasional fraying, preserved in three custom-made green cloth slipcases. Item #402941

A very extensive archive which revealingly documents the writing of this enormously influential postwar novel, a dark tale of love and guilt against a compelling landscape of modern urban poverty, drug addiction and betrayal. The archive comprises at least four separate, substantially complete preliminary drafts (plus at least four additional partial drafts of specific portions) and Algren's complete final draft used as printer's copy. These substantial working drafts were together with other working drafts now located at Ohio State, divided by Philip Sang between that institution and the Illinois Instiitute of Technology, from which this portion was deaccessioned.

The Man With the Golden Arm, Algren's acclaimed novel of urban Chicago, winner of the first National Book Award in 1950, is almost universally regarded as the author's crowning achievement as a novelist. Upon publication, Hemingway commented to Maxwell Perkins that Algren was "probably the best writer under 50...writing today" and in a promotional notice used a boxing metaphor to describe Algren's achievement: "Mr. Algren can hit with both hands and move around and he will kill you if you are not awfully careful...Mr. Algren, boy, you are good." The novel was the source for a harrowing 1955 film starring Frank Sinatra as the Chicago veteran, card-shark and addict Frankie Machine, "the man with the golden arm." Frankie Machine's "golden arm" is both blessing and curse: "It's all in the wrist, 'n I got the touch," he brags. His dexterity makes him the best stud-poker dealer in Chicago and an aspiring jazz drummer, but it is also the limb into which he injects morphine heroin, and it is the same powerful arm with which he punches and accidentally kills his drug dealer.

Algren's multiple, heavily revised typescripts reflect his inspired, painstaking exertions over a four-year period, tracing the book's complete evolution from preliminary drafts through successive revisions, to a final typescript. The original title, Night Without Mercy, appears here at the top of the first page of the final draft. Over a four-year period, Algren tirelessly revised and reworked his darkly poetic tale, adding entirely new scenes and pages of new dialogue in order to capture the distinctive inflections and accents of his characters (based on his own difficult life in Chicago). The process of creation was not smooth, Algren recalled: "It comes, in lumps, and each lump has to be smoothed and grained down and then, when it's just so shining and smooth and you read it to yourself and love the sound of every perfect word, you find you can't use it, it doesn't tie in, it's fine in itself but it diverts the whole story." These drastically reworked typescripts bear out Algren's account of his unremitting work: "I judge that I wrote 'Golden Arm' a dozen times in some places, and more in others," Algren told an interviewer. "I suppose there were, for some sections, forty rewritings" (quoted in Bettina Drew, Nelson Algren: A Life on the Wild Side, p.197-198).

The typescript drafts, totaling 1,444 pages, comprise four substantially complete separate versions, plus at least four additional drafts of specific sections (now interfiled). A number of different papers were employed by Algren during his four year's work on the book, including a fine bond watermarked "Data Valley Paper Co.," a thin "Eaton Bond," as well as foolscap typewriter paper. In an effort to save paper (or when he ran out), Algren frequently typed on the blank versos of letters addressed to him. These include letters to Mike Hecht, Alice Dickey, Jean Malaquais and a 1949 notice from the Guggenheim Foundation telling Algren that his application for a fellowship had not been granted. One page is typed on the verso of a letter from Algren's editor at Doubleday, Ken McCormick, dated 3 February 1949, regarding permission to quote certain popular songs and praising the book's new title, "The Man With the Golden Arm." Some of the drafts represented here are more heavily revised than others and certain sections of the book clearly demanded more revision and rewriting than others. Algren's revisions are in either pen or ink, usually between the lines and in margins, but sometimes spill into the blank margins and onto the blank versos of at least 20 sheets. Substantial sections of typed text have been encircled and crossed out by Algren, but remain completely readable, allowing the sequence of revision to be followed. 

The Man With the Golden Arm was published to nearly unanimous acclaim. Algren was praised in the New Yorker for "broad compassion, his charged, metaphoric style" and memorable characters. Algren, wrote a reviewer in the Chicago Sun-Times is "an artist whose sympathy is as large as Victor Hugo's...an artist who ranks, with this new novel, as Hemingway predicted he would, among our best American authors." Elsewhere, Algren's writing was compared to Zola, Dickens, Gorky and Dostoevsky. Since 1949, the book has been continuously in print, and, as a recent critic notes, The Man With the Golden Arm remains Algren's "greatest triumph" because "its language is so densely laid down and so lyrical, its momentum so sustained, because the familiar Algren characters here are possessed of so much insight. To say it the way I imagine Algren might have: because it is the book he put the most into" (Daniel Simon, "Algren's Question," in The Man With the Golden Arm, 50th Anniversary Critical Edition, New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999, p.412).

Provenance: Philip D. Sang (1902-1975) of Chicago -- Illinois Institute of Technology, gift of the preceding, in 1955, deacessioned in 2003.

Price: $75,000.00

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