Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2013 Issue

Manuscript of Beckett's First Novel to be Sold July 10

Beckettms

Drawings on Beckett's Murphy manuscript.

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” With that happy introduction, we can report what Sotheby's describes as “one of the most important 20th century literary manuscripts in private hands” will be on the block July 10. It is the original manuscript for Samuel Beckett's first novel, Murphy, from which that is the opening line. It was not his first attempt at an opening. The manuscript reveals at least eight other versions were written before Beckett settled on the final one.

Murphy was published in 1938, but the six exercise books containing this manuscript were written from August 1935 through June 1936. Beckett was born and raised in Ireland, and still lived there while he wrote this Dublin/London-based novel. Soon thereafter, he headed for Europe, eventually settling in Paris. In his early days, Beckett came under the influence of another great Irish writer, James Joyce. He worked for Joyce awhile, doing research for him. However, by the time he began work on Murphy, he was off on his own developing his own style.

Sotheby's notes that this is the closest of Beckett's novels to a “realist tradition,” though it has more in common with the absurdities of life that came to full bore with his most famous work, Waiting For Godot. Its characters deal with the emptiness of life, a recurring Beckett theme. Sotheby's also notes that Murphy “is the most comic of all Beckett’s works.” However, we should note that being the most comic of Beckett's works is not the same as, say, being the most comic of Twain's works.

According to Peter Selley, Senior Specialist in Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby's, “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.” Even Godot would have waited for this one to come to market.

We will not recount the plot of this novel lest we spoil it for you, but the protagonist lives in a strange world with strange people. Perhaps this is what life was like in Dublin and London at the time, though we seriously think not. What we do know is that it took Beckett a while to get it right as the manuscript is full of hand changes and corrections. This manuscript will be of as great interest to scholars as it is to collectors. As Mr. Selley points out, “The manuscript is capable of redefining Beckett studies for many years to come.”

It is also filled with doodles and drawings made by Beckett, those markings we all made on paper (in the pre-word processing era) when we experienced writer's block. Among the recognizable “portraits” in his notes are those of Joyce, Beckett himself, and Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin would be an inspiration for the tramps that later appeared in Godot.

The Beckett manuscript is estimated to sell for £800,000 - £1,200,000 ($1,200,000 - $1,800,000).

Speaking of Mr. Beckett's mentor, James Joyce, a most interesting Joyce item sold at a Sotheby's auction on June 11. It is one of apparently only 20 copies of the first pressing of a record of Joyce reading a selection from Ulysses. This is, so to speak, an early rap record. Joyce was cool. Naturally, only a small selection of Ulysses could fit on an old 78. The label is that of Shakespeare and Company, the legendary Paris bookseller that had this recording made. Proprietor Sylvia Beach later noted the number of copies made, though most had disappeared by then. Sotheby's believes that only two or three unbroken copies survive, with a few broken ones also around. The record is signed and dated by Joyce, November 27, 1924. Against an estimate of $15,000 - $20,000, the record sold for $43,750.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.
  • <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Collection of 131 Herbert Ponting gelatin silver contact prints of Antartica, £6000-8000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of several lots of Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin silver prints, £200-300
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Vintage gelatin silver print of Diego Rivera by Leonard McCombe, £300-500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel (April, 1867), £30,000-50,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, Love, 1864 (from the Norman album), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Lewis Carroll of Twyford School Eleven (Summer Term, 1859), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin as 'Dane' (Oxford, 1873), £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Calotype print (c1845) by Hill & Adamson of Lady Elizabeth (Rigby) Eastlake, £3000-4000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Group of 12 waxed paper negatives of Scottish scenes by Thomas Keith, mid-1850s, £3000-5000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of 15 lots of Roger Fenton salt prints of his work in the Crimea, mid-1850s, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Quarter plate ambrotype (c.1860s) with ethnographic portrait of a woman seated at a table, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Rare whole plate thermoplastic union case of the Landing of Columbus (c.1858),part of the John Hannavy collection, £1500-2000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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