"A DAZZLING PARADE OF LITERARY AND CULTURAL REFERENCES": LIMITED FIRST EDITION OF NATHANAEL WEST'S FIRST BOOK, DREAM LIFE OF BALSO SNELL, 1931, ONE OF ONLY 500 COPIES
WEST, Nathanael. The Dream Life of Balso Snell. Paris, New York: Contact Editions, (1931). Octavo, original tan stiff-paper wrappers, uncut. $2200.
Limited first edition of West's first novel, number 234 of only 300 copies for sale in America (total of 500), a "deliberately blaphemous" introduction to his disruptive and unique genius, followed by Miss Lonelyhearts, Cool Million and Day of the Locust before his tragic death in 1939, in original wrappers.
Much of West's debut novel, Dream Life of Balso Snell, was written while working as a night manager of a Manhattan hotel, where "Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, James T. Farrell and others [were often] happily in line for free lodgings." Well ahead of its time, the novel is increasingly viewed as "dazzling parade of literary and cultural references" (New York Times). The innovative and often Dadaist "architecture of West's imagination emerges in toto here" (Veitch, American Surrealism, 27-28). The novel "is deliberately blasphemous, sometimes hilariously so, and it was altogether too unconventional to attract even the most adventurous of the established publishers. But in 1931, on the strength of a positive report by William Carlos Williams, Dream Life became the first novel to be published as a Contact Edition in the United States. It was also the last. This legendary small press had been started by McAlmon in Paris, where it published, among other innovators of the 1920s, Stein, Hemingway and Robert Coates." West followed Dream Life with Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), Cool Million (1934) and Day of the Locust (1939), before dying in a car crash at the age of 36. "It was a bad, bad weekend for American literature: the day before, F. Scott Fitzgerald, died at the age of 44" (New York Times). Of the 500 copies printed in this limited edition, West had to guarantee to buy 150, and it all but vanished on publication: caught in the spin of the Wall Street Crash and the publisher's financial crisis. Partial glassine to front dust jacket flaps.
Text fine; fragile original wrappers with light expert restoration. An attractive copy of an elusive American classic.