Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Manuscripts | Publications | Reviews


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First edition of Murphy (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1938). Inscribed by Beckett to John and Evelyn Kobler, June 1971.

Finally, after forty rejections, Murphy was accepted by Routledge on the recommendation of Herbert Read, whose high regard for the novel was not shared by the English reviewers. In a letter written on stationery from the Café du Dome, Beckett wrote to Arland Ussher on 27 March 1938: “The critics have all betrayed the same annoyance. Like the dog’s hindquarters when the spine is touched in the right place.”

At the end of World War II, when Beckett passed through London en route to Dublin, he discovered that of the 1,500 copies printed, Routledge had sold only 618 and remaindered the rest—without consulting him, of course. For his years of anguish over Murphy Beckett received “in all £20 ([minus] income tax),” he wrote to George Reavey on 15 December 1946.


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While France was preparing, in the fall of 1939, for the inevitable German invasion, Beckett decided that, rather than flee, he wanted to stay in Paris, where he was determinedly translating Murphy into French. But to do so, he needed papers verifying that he was a “neutral alien.” He applied for the necessary papers in early September, but the bureaucracy—now overtaxed because of the war—was especially slow. In May of the following year, Beckett had still had no reply to his application.


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Having no papers and no money, Beckett was finally forced to leave just ahead of the German occupation of Paris, and he headed for Vichy, where Joyce was. From there, by train and bus and on foot, he reached Arcachon. He wrote to Reavey, then in Madrid, that he would like to get back to Ireland. Reavey so informed the Irish Legation in Madrid and waited for Beckett to appear. According to this letter from Daniel O’Byrne to Reavey, Beckett was trying to reach Ireland via Portugal. Bureaucratic delays once more disrupted his plans, but this time they worked in his favor: he was able to return to Paris, where he stayed until October 1942.


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On 15 December 1945 Beckett wrote to George Reavey that he had signed a contract for all future work with Bordas and had been paid well by them for both his translation and an advance on royalties.

Beckett’s optimism about his future with Bordas didn’t survive the launching of the French edition of Murphy. In spite of some good reviews, the book failed to catch on. Published in Bordas’s series “Les Imaginaires” in an edition of 3,000 copies, Murphy languished in its bins. By the time Jérôme Lindon of Les Editions de Minuit took over as Beckett’s publisher in 1951, fewer than 100 copies had been sold. The remaining copies and unbound sheets were bound in the characteristic Minuit wrappers.