Murphy, which came out in 1938, is Samuel Beckett’s first published novel. The hand-written 800-page manuscript, which fills six notebooks, has been in private hands for half a century.
Its text is very different from the printed edition and includes revisions, different colour inks, dated pages and doodles, giving many insights into the creative process.
There are even eight different versions of the opening sentence before Beckett eventually opted for “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new”.
When the manuscript came up for sale at Sotheby’s yesterday, it was described as the “most important manuscript of a complete novel by a modern British or Irish writer to appear at auction for many decades”.
It has now been bought by the University of Reading, home of the world’s largest Beckett archive, for £962,500. Few people have hitherto had a chance to see it, but it will now be made available to scholars from all over the world keen to examine a hugely significant work-in-progress.
“In difficult economic circumstances,” commented vice-chancellor Sir David Bell, “such purchases have to be considered very carefully. As the University of Reading’s research on Beckett is one of our greatest strengths, we believed that it made eminent sense for us to pursue such a significant acquisition.”
Reading’s Beckett Collection houses over 600 items of original material, including drafts, annotated and corrected copies, as well as nearly 500 editions of Beckett’s work in more than 20 languages, stage files relating to over 680 productions of his plays and rare images from the first performance of Waiting for Godot.