Samuel Beckett's Murphy manuscript auctions for $1.4m at Sotheby's

The manuscript for Samuel Beckett's first novel, Murphy, has sold in Sotheby's English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations auction, which is currently underway in London.

Samuel Beckett Murphy manuscript
The doodles reveal Beckett's state of mind at a time when he was undergoing psychoanalysis

The manuscript has been described as "the most important 20th century working manuscript in private hands". It sold for £962,500 ($1.4m) against a £800,000-1.2m estimate.

Handwritten across six exercise books, the manuscript is remarkable, not only as the precursor to Beckett's first published novel, but also for its extensive notes, cancellations and revisions, which hint at the author's struggle to give his novel form.

It also contains hundreds of lively doodles from the procrastinating writer, giving a fantastic impression of his preoccupations of the time.

Included are portraits of James Joyce, from whom the author undoubtedly took inspiration, and Charlie Chaplin, who served as the inspiration for the tramps in Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

The text of the manuscript is substantially different from that of the published version of Murphy, which was released in 1938. It features at least eight different versions of the famous opening sentence, which today reads, "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new".

"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," commented Sotheby's Peter Selley prior to the sale.

"The notebooks contain almost infinite riches for all those - whether scholars or collectors - interested in this most profound of modern writers, who more than anyone else, perhaps, captures the essence of modern man. The manuscript is capable of redefining Beckett studies for many years to come."

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