Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece acquired by the university

The University is delighted to announce that it has acquired the working manuscript of Samuel Beckett’s first major work, Murphy, at the cost of £962,500, at an auction at Sotheby’s in London today.

Beckett woodcut

The hand-written manuscript, which has been in private hands for the last half century, will now become accessible to Beckett scholars around the world as part of the Beckett Collection, the world’s largest Beckett archive, based at the University.

At nearly 800 pages long, Murphy is among the greatest literary manuscripts of the 20th century and, according to Sotheby’s, is the “most important manuscript of a complete novel by a modern British or Irish writer to appear at auction for many decades”. Murphy was Beckett’s first published novel and the first major expression of the central themes that would occupy Beckett for the next half century.

Vice-Chancellor, Sir David Bell, said: “It is important that world-renowned institutions such as our University can continue to fund access to knowledge and the best resources for researchers and students. The acquisition of Murphy will provide unparalleled opportunities to learn more about one of the greatest writers in living memory, if not all time. 

“In difficult economic circumstances, such purchases have to be considered very carefully. As the University’s research on Beckett is one of our greatest strengths, we believed that it made eminent sense for us to pursue such a significant acquisition.

“We intend to fund the purchase of the Murphy manuscript by realising other less significant assets from the University’s existing art and collections portfolio, currently valued at around £40m. That way, we will ensure that those items we hold or purchase are consistent with the strengths and interests of the University.”

Professor James Knowlson, Emeritus Professor, friend of Beckett and his sole authorised biographer, said: “This manuscript is a treasure trove of insight into the mind of one of the greatest literary figures of the past 100 years.

Murphy was Beckett’s first published novel. 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.”

Dr Mark Nixon, Director of the Beckett International Foundation at the University, said: “The University of Reading is in many ways the centre of Beckett studies worldwide. Murphy has only been glimpsed briefly by a handful of scholars over the last half century. This major acquisition for the Beckett Collection at the University will open up access to this unique manuscript to Beckett scholars and the interested public the world over.”

 Mark Nixon

The manuscript, which fills six notebooks, provides a text that is substantially different from the final printed edition in 1938. With its revisions, different colour inks, dated pages and doodles, it is an extraordinarily rich manifestation of Beckett’s writing practices and provides a unique and deep insight into the mind and working practices of one of the greatest writers of the last hundred years

About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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