Doris Lessing’s Nobel prize medal, won in 2007 for “subject[ing] a divided civilisation to scrutiny … with scepticism, fire and visionary power”, is to be sold at auction next week, with an expected price upwards of £150,000.
Christie’s, which has set a guide price of between £150,000 and £250,000, said that only one other Nobel medal for literature has previously sold at auction. That was Andre Gide’s, which sold in Paris last year for €300,000. Sotheby’s put William Faulkner’s Nobel medal up for auction in New York in 2013, with a guide price of $500,000 to $1m, but did not find a buyer.
When Lessing was named Nobel laureate by the Swedish Academy in 2007, she had already declined an OBE in 1977 and a damehood in 1992. Writing of the latter to the principal private secretary to the prime minister, she said: “Thank you for offering me this honour: I am very pleased. But for some time now I have been wondering, ‘But where is this British Empire?’ Surely, there isn’t one. And now I see that I am not the only one saying the same. There is something ruritannical about honours given in the name of a non-existent Empire.”
She was equally unfazed by her Nobel win, learning of the honour as she returned home in a taxi from a shopping trip with her son. “Oh Christ! I’m sure you’d like some uplifting remarks of some kind,” she told the cameras, adding: “I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I’m delighted to win them all. It’s a royal flush.”
At 87, Lessing was the literature prize’s oldest winner. Born in Persia, Lessing grew up in Rhodesia, and left school at the age of 13. She was a voracious reader, and her parents sourced books from England for her. In her Nobel lecture, she spoke of the inequality she had seen and the importance of books in making a writer: “Even today I get letters from people living in a village that might not…