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:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.
  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Pushkin, Alexander. <i>Evgenii Onegin. A novel in verse.</i> A first edition of the most important work in Russian literature in its original parts, 1825–32. £120,000 to £160,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Gogol, Nikolai. <i>Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka.</i> A rare first edition of Gogol's first masterpiece, 1831–32. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Darwin, Charles Robert. <i>On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.</i> First edition, owned and read by two contemporaries of Darwin. London: John Murray, 1859. £140,000 to £200,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Galilei, Galileo. <i>Sidereus Nuncius.</i> First edition, announcing the first astronomical discoveries made with the telescope. Venice: Tommaso Baglioni, [March] 1610. £300,000 to £500,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> The seal of Wulfric. England, first half 11th century. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Bible, <i>Ezechiel</i> in Latin. [Northern Italy, 5th century]. £120,000 to £180,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Blaeu, Jan and Willem Blaeu. <i>Grooten Atlas [Atlas Major]</i>. Amsterdam: Johannes Blaeu, 1664. £450,000 to £650,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Petites Heures of Charles VIII use of Paris, in Latin. An exquisite Hours illuminated by the Master of the Chronique Scandaleuse. [Paris, 1490s]. £300,000 to £500,000
  • <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> André Breton, <i>Second manifeste du Surréalisme,</i> Paris, Editions Kra, 1930
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Paul Eluard and Pablo Picasso, <i>La Barre d’appui,</i> Paris, Editions « Cahiers d’Art », 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Hans Bellmer, <i>Die Puppe,</i> Paris, G.L.M., 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Salvador Dali, <i>La femme visible,</i> Paris, Editions Surréalistes, 1930

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