One of the most important 20th century working manuscripts remaining in private hands – Samuel Beckett’s first novel, “Murphy” – will come up at Sotheby’s in London on July 10. Thought capable of re-defining Beckett studies it is estimated at £800,000-£1 million.
Handwritten in six exercise books between August 1935 and June 1936 in Dublin and London whilst Beckett was undergoing psychoanalysis, the manuscript, initially entitled “Sasha Murphy” is heavily revised throughout. The hundreds of cancellations and revisions bear witness to Beckett’s struggle to give form to his artistic vision. The novel is characterised by exuberant language and is the most comic of all Beckett’s works, although it also has deep philosophical roots. The plot concerns the eponymous Murphy’s attempts to find peace in the nothingness of the “little world” of the mind without intrusion from the outside world. Spurred on to find employment by his prostitute girlfriend, Murphy finds some tranquillity working in an insane asylum before accidentally immolating himself in his garret.
The notebooks are also full of lively doodles hinting at the author’s preoccupations during this period, including recognisable portraits of James Joyce, Beckett himself, and Charlie Chaplin (later an influence on the tramps in Waiting for Godot), as well as astrological symbols and musical notations.
Peter Selley, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist in Books and Manuscripts commented: “This is unquestionably the most important manuscript of a complete novel by a modern British or Irish writer to appear at auction for many decades. I have known about the existence of this remarkable manuscript for a long time – as have a number of others in the rare book business, and some Beckett scholars – but it has only been glimpsed, tantalizingly, by a few chosen individuals during that time. The notebooks contain almost infinite riches for all those – whether scholars or collectors – interested in this most profound of modern writers, who more than anyone else, perhaps, captures the essence of modern man. The manuscript is capable of redefining Beckett studies for many years to come”.