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Doris Lessing’s Nobel medal goes up for auction | Books

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.”

Reporters deliver the Nobel news to Doris Lessing in 2007

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…

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