Would you like to own a large straw giraffe and a “shh” sign from the Ritz Carlton , both of which used to sit in the corner of Philip Roth’s front guest bedroom? Or how about the great American novelist’s seven-piece wicker patio suite ? No? Then surely you’d go for a folding ladder found in his barn , or his stereo , doorstop or Samsonite rolling suitcase (“with original luggage tag filled out by Roth”)?
Litchfield County Auctions has just listed a bewildering number and variety of items from the estate of the writer, who died last year aged 85. It turns out that we have not only the towering majesty of novels such as Portnoy’s Complaint and American Pastoral to remember him by; if we feel so inclined and can spare a couple of hundred dollars, we can also bid to own the 13 pewter figures of the “People of Colonial America” that were kept in his attic.
While I can entirely understand the pull of wanting to own, say, Roth’s Olivetti typewriter – I mean, touching the very keys that tapped out The Plot Against America or Goodbye, Columbus would send shivers down anyone’s spine – I find the fetishisation of writers – to the degree that their entire households can be auctioned off – mystifying to say the least. And it is a fetishisation: an old straw giraffe “with some unravelling” near the feet, whose “odd” association with the “shh” sign is “unknown”, would not be priced at $50 to $75 (£40-60) if it weren’t formerly housed in Roth’s spare room.
The auction is on 20 July, so we will shortly find out if the public will be paying out for Roth’s bed or his luggage stand or his vintage Balinese shadow puppet , “perhaps connected to Sabbath’s Theater?”
At least, unlike poor old JD Salinger, it’s not his toilet .