Doodle-strewn draft of Beckett’s first novel to reach over €1m at auction

Six handwritten notebooks, containing draft of Murphy, to be sold at Sotheby’s in London

Fri, May 31, 2013, 16:00

Six doodle-strewn notebooks, containing the handwritten draft of Samuel Beckett’s first published novel, Murphy, are to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in London.

The Murphy draft provides a rare insight into the writer’s early artistic vision and is, arguably, the most significant Beckett manuscript to come under the hammer since the author’s death in 1989.

While scholars have known of its existence, very few have had a chance to view the text as it has been held in private hands until now.

It is the star lot in Sotheby’s auction of rare books and manuscripts on July 10th next, and has a guide price of £800,000 - £1.2 million (€937,000 - €1.4 million).

Initially entitled Sasha Murphy, the heavily revised draft was penned by Beckett between August 1935 and June 1936 when he was undergoing an intense period of psychoanalysis.

The notebooks are full of lively doodles hinting at the author’s preoccupations during the 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.

At over 800 pages long, the draft provides a substantially different text from the printed version of the 1938 novel.

It includes at least eight cancelled and rewritten versions of its famous opening sentence, “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new”.

The novel’s plot concerns the eponymous Murphy and his farcical attempts to find peace without intrusion from the outside world, most notably by working in an insane asylum.

Despite its dark philosophical underpinnings, it is considered Beckett’s most comic work, and marks his last major effort at writing in English, prior to switching to French.

Peter Selley of Sotheby’s said: “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.”

The National Library, which has acquired comparable literary manuscripts in the past, declined to indicate if it intended to bid for the Beckett manuscript, saying it had a policy of not “commenting on material coming up for sale”.

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