Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Manuscripts | Publications | Reviews


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The original manuscript of Beckett’s Watt, written in ink and colored crayons between 1940 and 1945, numbers 945 pages in six notebooks and loose sheets. The manuscript features many changes, deletions, and additions, and numerous doodles, sketches, mathematical calculations, rhyming schemes, and drawings.

Watt is a whale of a manuscript—a white whale. Among the thousands of modern manuscripts in the Ransom Center, it glows like a luminous secular relic. It is, at moments, magnificently ornate, a worthy scion of The Book of Kells, with the colors reduced to more somber hues. The doodles, cartoons, caricatures, portraits en cartouche include reminiscences of African and Oceanic art, the gargoyles of Notre-Dame, heraldry, and more. Beckett’s handwriting is at its most deceptively cursive. Eppur si legge! And it “reads” in other ways too. Jorge Luis Borges, examining Watt tactilely, sensed something of its extraordinary qualities, which, obviously, must transcend the visual. He asked his companion to describe it to him. This she did in detail, Borges nodding, “Yes, yes,” with a happy smile throughout her description.


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The 297-page typescript (some are carbon copy sheets) of Watt contains substantial differences from the published text and is marked at the beginning, “Original typescript of / Watt Incomplete / Samuel Beckett.” Beckett introduced numerous autograph revisions and deletions, and some doodles and mathematical calculations in ink, colored crayons, and pencil.