Samuel Beckett manuscript sells for £962,500 at auction

Samuel Beckett's manuscript for Murphy The manuscripts were written in six 1930s school exercise books containing eight different versions of the opening sentence.

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A manuscript of writer Samuel Beckett's first novel, Murphy, has sold for £962,500 at an auction at Sotheby's.

The University of Reading, which bought the manuscript to add to its collection of more than 500 manuscripts and drafts, said it was "thrilled".

The six school exercise books containing doodles and passages from the classic text are the first drafts of the author's first major work.

The University's Prof James Knowlson said it was "the icing on the cake".

The purchase will be funded by selling other items owned by the institution, spokesman Pete Castle told the BBC News website.

"We're going to juggle our collection in order to make this significant investment in a key area for the university's special collection," said Mr Castle.

Analysis

Murphy may be of the greatest literary manuscripts of the 20th Century, but the atmosphere at Sotheby's was curiously subdued.

The bidding began at £600,000 and rose steadily to £800,000, but there were no dramatic bursts of interest from prospective purchasers on the telephone or online.

Instead, armed with paddle number 810, Emeritus Professor Jim Knowlson, sat in the auction room and bid on behalf of the University of Reading, where the Beckett Archive is based.

Afterwards he told me he was so nervous he had not gone to sleep until 4am. But he said it was the thrill of his lifetime to be bidding - and succeeding.

Prof Knowlson, who bid for the manuscript on behalf of the university, said it was the most important manuscript auction for the last few decades.

"It really is the single item that was in private hands for over 50 years that we wanted to have the most," he said.

Sotheby's manuscript specialist Dr Gabriel Heaton said the notebooks provided a "unique insight" into Beckett's mind.

The manuscript, originally titled Sasha Murphy, contained revisions, doodles and sketches of Charlie Chaplin and author James Joyce.

"We've counted eight different versions of the opening sentence," said Dr Heaton.

The novel, first published in 1938, tells the story of the title character Murphy and his desire to withdraw from life.

Dr Heaton said the manuscripts show the first time Beckett explored major themes such as "the desire to retreat from human contact" that recur throughout his works.

Beckett's self portrait and sketches of Charlie Chaplin The manuscript contain sketches of Charlie Chaplin and his friend James Joyce

Written on cheap school exercise books, the notes show the author's corrections and revisions as he was "trying to get started".

"There's such a contrast between the simple appearance on the outside and the wonderful annotated corrected manuscript - all these words spewing from Beckett as he writes this first masterpiece," Dr Heaton added.

Last year, a first edition of Murphy was sold at auction for £12,000 after it was donated to an Oxfam charity shop in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.

Beckett won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969 for "writing, which - in new forms for the novel and drama - in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation".

The manuscripts, which were given to Beckett's friend and fellow writer Brian Coffey, were bought by a private collector in the 1960s and later sold by his estate.

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