Saturday 18 November 2017

Doodles of a literary genius... €1.2m Beckett notebooks go on show

Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

A MANUSCRIPT that offers a glimpse into the unique working mind of Samuel Beckett goes on display this week for one day only.

The University of Reading bought six dog-eared dark blue notebooks containing the manuscript of Beckett's first published novel 'Murphy' for €1.23m at Sotheby's auction last year and hopes to show them in other countries in the future.

"It's very early days," said James Barr of the University of Reading, ahead of the manuscript going on display in the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading tomorrow for the day. "But this is a literary treasure and we would love to display it in other places at some stage in the future. But first we have to finish transcribing and digitising it," said Mr Barr.

The manuscript gives unique insight into Beckett's creative methodology and writing process.

Doodles and drawings of Charlie Chaplin decorate margins and corners of pages and more than a dozen openings are crossed out until the 'Waiting for Godot' author eventually settled on the now famous opening, "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new".

"With its revisions, different colour inks, dated pages and doodles, it is an extraordinarily rich manifestation of Beckett's writing practices," said Dr Mark Nixon, director of the Beckett International Foundation at the University of Reading.

"To see the novelist's development of some of the most famous passages in modern literature, gives a unique insight into how he worked at an early stage in his career."

Beckett scholar John Pilling is the man tasked with transcribing the manuscript – a lengthy process given the author's tendency to scrawl and scratch out passages

"It is not his greatest work," admitted Pilling. "But it is the earliest fiction manuscript we have, his first published novel, relatively readable and still funny, and these are precious qualities."

Completion of 'Murphy' was followed by 40 rejections from publishers before Routledge decided to run with it in 1938.

Although it received sympathetic reviews, it was not a success at the time of publication. Beckett left the manuscripts in the hands of his friend the poet Brain Coffey who sold them to a collector.

They remained in private possession until the auction at Sotheby's last year.

Irish Independent

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