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>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 54. Fanciful engraving of earth's interior with magma core and errupting volcanoes (1682). $1500 to $1800.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 165. Rare state of Jefferys' influential map of New England in contemporary color (1755). $8000 to $9500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 177. Mouzon's foundation map of the Carolinas (1775). $10000 to $13000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 183. Very rare first state of De Fer's map of the Lower Mississippi Valley (1715). $20000 to $25000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 253. Scarce Scottish edition based on Ellicott's plan of Washington, D.C. (1796). $2400 to $3000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 313. Stunning view of Philadelphia by John Bachmann (1850). $3250 to $4250.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 338. Rare Civil War map based on Bucholtz map of Virginia (1862). $9500 to $12000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 667. First map to accurately show Luzon in Philippines (1590). $6000 to $7500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 682. Rare map of Shanghai International Settlement published just after WWI (1918). $7000 to $9000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 738. Coronelli's superb map of the Pacific showing the Island of California (1697) Est. $2400 - $3000
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 743. A cornerstone piece in the mapping of Australia and New Zealand (1726) Est. $6000 - $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 781. An uncommon signature during Jefferson's Governorship of Virginia (1779) Est. $9500 - $11000
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br>Atlases and Maps</b
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br> Veneto and Venice, a Selection of Books from the XVI to XX century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>

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