Manuscript of Beckett's first novel sells for nearly $1.5 million

LONDON Wed Jul 10, 2013 11:04am EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - A manuscript of Irish author Samuel Beckett's first novel, "Murphy", sold at auction in London on Wednesday for nearly one million pounds ($1.5 million), meeting pre-auction estimates, according to auction house Sotheby's.

The University of Reading was the successful of two bidders vying for the manuscript that contains handwritten notes and substantially differs from the finished novel published in 1938.

The university paid 962,500 pounds for the manuscript by the Irish-born Nobel laureate. It was estimated to sell for between 800,000 to 1.2 million pounds.

"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," said Peter Selley, Sotheby's senior specialist in books and manuscripts, in a statement.

"The manuscript is capable of redefining Beckett studies for many years to come."

Spread out across six notebooks, the manuscript contains multiple revisions, doodles, and sketches of fellow Irish writer James Joyce and British comic actor Charlie Chaplin, both influences on Beckett's work.

It was written between August 1935 and June 1936 whilst Beckett was undergoing psychoanalysis.

Born in Dublin in 1906, Beckett lived and worked for most of his life in Paris, wrote in French and English, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. He died in 1989.

His first novel is described as the most comic of all his works, involving Murphy's attempts to withdraw from the world.

David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Reading, said the acquisition of "Murphy" would provide "unparalleled opportunities to learn more about one of the greatest writers in living memory".

Some Beckett scholars disagreed.

Steven Connor, Beckett specialist at the University of Cambridge, said Beckett studies have been overtaken by an cult of "sacred traces" with scholars seeking signs of unmasked revelation.

"It makes me queasy to think that publicly funded institutions should feed this vain frenzy," Connor told Reuters.

(Reporting by Amritha John, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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