LONDON May 31 A rare glimpse into the mind of
one of the 20th century's greatest writers will go up for sale
in July when a manuscript for Samuel Beckett's first novel hits
the auction block.
Six exercise books filled with the Irish-born Nobel
laureate's handwritten notes for "Murphy" alongside drawings and
doodles will be the highlight of Sotheby's English Literature
and History Sale on July 10.
Written between August 1935 and June 1936, in Dublin and
London while the playwright, novelist and poet was undergoing
psychoanalysis, the manuscript is a heavily revised witness of
Beckett's struggle to give form to his artistic vision.
Sotheby's Manuscript Specialist Gabriel Heaton told Reuters
that the books have been in private hands until now and have
never been widely available to scholars.
"Altogether it's nearly 800 pages long and right the way
through it's changed as Beckett thinks about how he wants to
express his ideas and clarifies his thoughts," Heaton said.
Whoever buys the manuscript will gain new insight into the
formulation of the central themes of Beckett's often humorous
but bleak canon. A private collector could share it with the
academic community or keep to himself.
Heaton said the author of the tragicomic play "Waiting for
Godot" and novels such as "Malone Dies", "Molloy" and "The
Unnamable" pointed back to "Murphy" late in life as a guide to
understanding his work.
"There's a famous letter from a scholar...asking him how to
start working on Beckett. He said 'go back to 'Murphy', the
central themes are all there'," Heaton said.
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.
DOODLES AND DRAWINGS
His first 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.
Mostly set in shabby lodgings in London, with some chapters
set in Dublin - where a strange trio of characters start a
fruitless search for Murphy - this is the closest that Beckett
ever came to a novel in the realist tradition.
The manuscript provides a text that is substantially
different from the printed version of "Murphy" of 1938. It
includes at least eight cancelled versions of its famous opening
sentence before it reached its final form: "The sun shone,
having no alternative, on the nothing new."
The manuscript is also dotted with Beckett's doodles and
drawings of himself, of Joyce and actor Charlie Chaplin, whose
tramp characters may have influenced the main characters in his
best known work, the 1953 stage play "Waiting for Godot".
Beckett's writing emerged from the intellectual ferment that
gave rise to existentialism and absurdism. His greatest early
influence was Irish writer Joyce, with whom he became friendly
in Paris in the late 1920s. He was even romantically entangled
with Joyce's daughter Lucia.
In the early 1930s Beckett struggled to overcome the
influence of the "Ulysses" author and find his own voice; or, as
Beckett himself put it in a 1931 letter: "I vow I will get over
J. J. ere I die. Yessir".
That struggle may at last come to an end nearly a quarter of
a century after Beckett's death, in the auction room at least.
Heaton said the $2.13 million top estimate for the "Murphy"
manuscript outstrips the $1.4 million price made for a partial
draft of "Ulysses" sold at the start of the 21st century.
"James Joyce has historically always achieved higher prices
than has Samuel Beckett, although nothing of this importance has
ever come on the market."
($1 = 0.6572 British pounds)
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)