The French Murphy: from ‘rare bird’ to ‘cancre’

 

Anthony Jones

 

It was in 1961 that Ruby Cohn, in what was probably the first study of its kind, examined the textual variants in Beckett’s self-translations.1 The very size of the undertaking (the article deals with the translations of Murphy, the trilogy, En attendant Godot and Fin de partie) made for an economical discussion which could not always explore in detail the evidence brought to light. A case in point occurs in the section dealing with Murphy. Observing that the majority of variants incorporated into the French Murphy serve to heighten the comic, and in particular the ironic tone of the original, Professor Cohn goes on to note that these shifts intensify the degree of authorial detachment already apparent in the English text.

 

This is not perhaps a proposition of great consequence insofar as the novel’s subsidiary characters are concerned. The presentation of these absurdly mannered and predictable puppets (the term is Beckett’s) was wholeheartedly malicious from the start; no matter how systematically the French text multiplies its jibes, the status of these caricatures could scarcely be diminished further in our eyes.2 Murphy himself however is ‘not a puppet,’3 and Beckett’s treatment of him is correspondingly more complex, with irony and sympathy constantly juxtaposed.4 If, as Professor Cohn suggests, the French Murphy reveals a more detached narrative stance, then we might expect such a shift to be registered, perhaps more sharply than anywhere else, in the delicate balance of this ambivalent presentation.

 

In the event, a close analysis of certain sequences of variants in the French text indicates a not insubstantial shift in perspective during the years separating original and translation.5 The attitude taken towards the French protagonist seems not merely more distant than before, but positively sterner.

 

This reappraisal is in part revealed through the obvious device of additional comment passed directly on Murphy himself. But the French text also modifies the primary terms of what might be conveniently called Murphy’s ‘predicament’; the French protagonist is thus effectively placed in a situation which differs somewhat from that of his English predecessor. It is helpful to begin with an examination of this restructuring, for the force of the overt comment which the French Murphy elicits will be better appreciated in the light of his altered circumstances.

 

At first sight, the English text seems to lose no time in outlining the basic elements of Murphy’s situation. The opening pages reveal that he distinguishes between ‘the big world’ of physical reality and ‘the little world’ of his mind; that the former is deemed detestable and the latter loveable; and that his immediate concern is to detach himself from the one in order to indulge in the contemplative delights of the other. It is while Murphy is engaged it precisely this exercise that we discover the fundamental complication which upsets the smooth execution of his project: Celia’s untimely telephone call occasions a surge of sexual desire which promptly takes complete control of his being. A shortcoming is thus exposed in Murphy’s rationale. One of the terms of his dualistic equation is inadequately formulated: his neat conceptualisation of a detestable physical self fails to take account of the intrusive appetites of the body. The essence of Murphy’s predicament would therefore appear to lie in this point of conflict between intellectual theory and lived experience, between conceit and actuality. The pleasures of the flesh may well, in the abstract, be deemed detestable and, more importantly, escapable; in reality, they are irresistibly enjoyable.

 

On closer inspection, however, this expository episode contains a puzzling ambiguity whose implications, if followed through, would appear to invite an elaboration of the above reading. The English text offers three instructive references relating to Murphy’s concept of a divided self:

 

Slowly the big world died down . . . in favour of the little, as de-

scribed in section six, where he could love himself (8);

 

The part of him that he hated craved for Celia, the part that he

loved shrivelled up at the thought of her (9);

 

Murphy said nothing. The self that he tried to love was tired (10).

 

Two of these references affirm categorically that Murphy can and does love his mind. The third adds an arresting qualification which sheds a new light on his situation: if Murphy has to try to love his mind, then his entire enterprise is immediately placed on a more precarious footing. Love for the mind ceases to be an experienced reality, and becomes instead a goal yet to be achieved. The crucial disparity proposed above between notionally ‘detestable’ and actually ‘detested’ now appears to be extended to the second term of Murphy’s equation: ‘loveable’ is not equivalent to ‘loved’.

 

The implications of such a revised reading are clearly far-reaching, and I shall return to them shortly. For the moment it is sufficient to observe that the reader of the English can legitimately ask which of these two readings is correct: does Murphy actually love his mind, or does he merely attempt to? There is nothing in the immediate context of this passage to resolve the ambivalence. It is surely implausible to suggest that the verb-form ‘tried’ should be read in the sense of ‘had been trying,’ thus localising its field of reference to the moments preceding Celia’s telephone call (with the consequent implication that he would have succeeded, had it not been for the interruption). Nor does it seem possible to reconcile the conflict satisfactorily by differentiating between two modes of narration, arguing for example that whereas the first two affirmative statements are articulated in the conveniently over-simplified terms that Murphy himself would prefer to use, the third qualified state ment gives us the benefit of a superior authorial insight. For even if the second affirmation is construed (dubiously, at best) as a form of style indirect libre, the first, with its self-consciously prospective aside ‘as described in section six,’ seems firmly signposted as the voice of the author or narrator.

 

Even in the wider context of the novel as a whole the fragment ‘tried to love’ stands as an isolated element whose implications are never pursued. If anything, the momentary doubts it casts seem to run counter to one of the novel’s more striking features. For whatever the problems that are to bedevil Murphy’s undertaking, the fact remains that there are certainly four and probably five occasions where he apparently succeeds in detaching himself from physical reality and enters into communion with ‘the accidentless One-and-Only, conveniently called Nothing’.6 It is on the strength of such evidence that commentators have stressed the degree of success, unusual in the Beckettian canon, encountered by Murphy.7 On balance, it would seem reasonable to conclude that the reader is intended not to question the validity of Murphy’s love for his mind, but to accept it as an experienced reality. The troublesome fragment must then be set aside either as a curious textual inconsistency, or alternatively (and more charitably) as an intriguing gesture towards an undeveloped theme.

 

This interpretative problem does not however arise in the French text. Here the doubts raised fleetingly in the English are consolidated, brought to the fore, and their further implications discreetly reinforced. This process is initiated by a revised presentation of Murphy’s distinction between a lovable and a detestable self. The three fragments reproduced earlier are reworked in translation to read:

 

 

Peu A peu le monde s’effaça . . . en faveur du petit, (tel qu’il est

décrit au sixième chapitre) (11);

 

La partie de lui qu’il haîssait brûlait pour Célia, la partie qu’il

essayait d’aimer, rien qu’en y pensant, tombait en cendres (11);

 

Murphy, le soi qu’il essayait d’aimer n’en pouvant plus, ne dit rien

(12).

 

In the first of these the reference to self-love is omitted; in the second the reference to love is now qualified by ‘essayait’ and thus brought into line with the final statement. As a result all ambiguity is removed: Murphy has to try to love his mind. The reader of the French is therefore openly invited to envisage a predicament of complex configuration. As in our initial reading of the English, there persists a crucial point of conflict between theory and experience: hatred of the body does not bring immunity from its imperious demands. But this complication is now unequivocally joined by a second, no less problematic: the desire to love the mind does not ensure that the mind is actually loved, no matter how strenuously the preference may be cultivated. Murphy’s intellectual hypothesis remains to be validated by the reality of lived experience.

 

If these implications are articulated in full, then Murphy’s predicament appears to take the form of a subtle double-bind: on the one hand experience threatens theory (the detestable pleasures of the flesh remain irresistibly enjoyable); on the other, experience fails to confirm theory (the desirable pleasures of the mind have yet to live up to expectation). One is tempted to conclude that the divided self of the French Murphy houses a reluctant sensualist in flight from the inescapable, alongside an aspiring ascetic in pursuit of the unattainable.

 

This is perhaps something of an overstatement.8 But I have deliberately magnified this issue in an attempt to clarify the complex structure of the situation in which the French Murphy appears to be initially placed, and to bring into focus the points where it differs from that of his English predecessor. The elaborate ramifications pursued above have, it is hoped, prepared the ground for the more prudent observation that the opening pages of the French text are altered to underline the problematic and paradoxical nature of Murphy’s position, and to place him squarely in the realm of effort rather than of achievement.

 

It is within this perspective that a number of subsequent variants can be seen to have a significance which their immediate context might not at first suggest. Two examples, serving again to clarify an obscurity in the English text and to alert the reader to a paradoxical flaw in Murphy’s thinking, occur in the episode where Celia discovers him trapped beneath his rocking-chair. Forced to give an account of himself, Murphy explains the following morning that having settled himself in the chair, ‘the next thing was he was having a heart attack’ (24). And a few lines later we learn that Celia is unaware of his affliction: ‘Nor did she know anything of his heart attacks’. Her ignorance is one the reader must share; there has been no previous indication of such attacks, nor is any explanation for them offered here or elsewhere.

 

The French however strikes two overtly provocative notes. We are told firstly that Murphy ‘se réveilla dans I’étau d’une crise cardiaque, qui strictement parlant n’en était pas une’ (27), and subsequently that Celia ‘ne savait rien non plus de ses fausses crises cardiaques’ (28). No further information is offered, but the reader’s curiosity and suspicions are aroused; and thus primed he is better placed to spot, on the following page, this warning tucked away in the jargon of Pandit Suk’s astrological forecast: ‘Quand règne la Sensualité, garde aux Convulsions’. If we are in fact intended to connect these elements (and it is difficult to see how else to interpret the knowledge that Murphy’s ‘crises cardiaques’ are not what they seem), then the paradox is clear: although the chair is ostensibly exploited to forestall the demands of the flesh (we are told [6] that it ‘appeased his body’), in the event it apparently serves to excite Murphy’s physical desires, bringing him full circle.

 

Now evidently this paradox is already implicit in the original text. Murphy’s need to be naked and bound in the chair argues an oddly sensual route to the contemplative mode; and Celia is later to discover for herself the chair’s erotic appeal.9 But the more direct link proposed above is difficult to establish in the English text. While the attentive reader might isolate Suk’s prediction10 and relate it back to Murphy’s ‘heart attacks,’ there is no explicit textual evidence to support the inferences he may draw therefrom. The French reader however is provided with clues which at once encourage and justify the detection of a causal relationship between contemplative technique and eroticism.

 

These variants do little more perhaps than bring latent thematic material to the surface. Two further alterations, however, mark a much more decisive step in the same direction, and again reinforce the idea that Murphy is inescapably susceptible to the pleasures of the flesh. Early in the original text the reader is informed that Murphy ‘sometimes had the price of a concert’ (16), but in French that ‘il avait parfois de quoi se payer une station de huit a dix heures aux Bains Turcs de Southampton Road’ (19). And later we see him, in theory looking for a job, but in fact killing time by walking round and round Pentonville prison. Here we are told: ‘Even so at evening he had walked round and round cathedrals that it was too late to enter’ (54). But in French: ‘[il] essayait de se croire a l’étranger, dans une ville inconnue, tournant autour d’une cathédrale fermée pour la nuit, en attendant I’ouverture des bordels’ (58). For the French Murphy, physical recreation appears to take precedence over the spiritual.

 

These alterations, whose effect is to point up the hold that physical pleasure has over Murphy, are consistent with a theme which runs, more or less overtly, throughout the English text. A further body of alterations, however, constitute a more marked departure from the original in that they appear to undermine the reader’s faith in the efficacy of Murphy’s contemplative method.

 

Looking again at the episode where Murphy explains his accident in the chair, we find that he describes himself as ‘having gone to sleep, though sleep was hardly the word, in the chair’ (24). The French here is fuller:

 

s’étant endormi dans sa berceuse, d’un sommeil qui à proprement

parler n’en était pas un, il avait dû avoir pendant quelque temps le

bonheur d’être mort apparemment aux choses sensibles (27).

 

But despite the expansion the French is scarcely more informative than the English. It merely offers two negative definitions instead of one; the additional knowledge that Murphy is ‘dead’ to things material does no more than gesture towards more positive specifications. On the other hand, the inclusion of the adverb ‘apparemment’ strikes a curious note of doubt, implying that Murphy’s detachment from physical sensation is less real than it might seem. The oddity does not lie in the proposition itself (ironically, it is perhaps a perception of deadly exactness), but in the manner of its formulation. For this passage (introduced by the words ‘Le lendemain matin il lui raconta . . . ‘) is explicitly presented as reported speech; and yet it seems unlikely that Murphy himself would wish to qualify in this way the degree of his detachment. To do so would be to call into question the very basis of his enterprise. There are grounds for suspecting that this weakening adverb is articulated by a more knowing voice which intrudes, narrative consistency notwithstanding, to sow a discreet seed of doubt in the reader’s mind.

 

Encouragement for this speculative argument is provided by a subsequent alteration which moves much more overtly in the same direction. It occurs where Murphy enters his trance in Hyde Park:

 

He . . . disconnected his mind from the gross importunities of

sensation and reflection and composed himself on the hollow of

his back for the torpor he had been craving to enter for the past

five hours . . . Nothing can stop me now, was his last thought

before he lapsed into consciousness, and nothing will stop me

(74).

 

The locution ‘lapsed into consciousness’ is one of considerable force which unequivocally confirms the validity of Murphy’s flight into contemplation: his trances represent a privileged mode of awareness superior to the waking state we normally deem ‘consciousness’. There seems no reason why this locution, unusual though it be, should not be directly translatable. But the French, substituting an exact antonym, reads ‘avant de tomber dans l’inconscience’ (79). The positive implications of the English are immediately lost; Murphy’s trance emerges now as little more than self-induced coma, and its status is correspondingly diminished in the reader’s eyes.

 

It may also be pertinent to cite a further occasion where the presentation of trance is modified in the French text. The context here is the trance which follows the lengthy chess game in Mr Endon’s cell. When Murphy comes to, he discovers that Mr Endon has been ringing the changes on the switches outside the cells of various inmates, paying particular attention to the hypomanic. These activities are duly noted by the institution’s automatic recording system:

 

For quite some little time Mr Endon had been drifting about the

corridors, pressing here a light-switch and there an indicator . . .

            Bom’s switchboard the following morning informed him that the

hypomanic had been visited at regular intervals of ten minutes

from 8 p.m. till shortly after 4 a.m., then for nearly an hour not at

all, then six times in the space of one minute, then no more

(169).

 

The imprecise ‘quite some little time’ does not allow us to determine how long Mr Endon roams free. But it is clear that Murphy neglects his duties ‘for nearly an hour,’ and the reader can reasonably infer that this represents the duration of his trance. In French however the latter part of this passage is reworked:

 

Le lendemain matin le tableau de Bom lui annonçait que l’hypo-

maniaque avait été visité, à partir de vingt heures jusqu’à un peu

avant quatre heures, à des intervalles réguliers de vingt minutes

au plus; puis, six fois dans I’espace d’une minute; puis, plus du

tout (177).

 

The alteration of ‘ten minutes’ to ‘vingt minutes’ need not detain us, for it is plain that the English text is erroneous here. The night-nurse must execute a round of visits every twenty minutes, and Murphy manages to complete each of his rounds in ten. It is in the free intervals of ten minutes thus gained that he conducts the intermittent game of chess.11 The French corrects this error. More striking is the excision of the fragment ‘then for nearly an hour not at all’. The omission makes for an awkward chronology of events (how long does Mr Endon have to accomplish the actions listed?). More importantly, the withholding of specific information leaves uncertain the duration of Murphy’s trance. By implication, however, it would seem to last no more than a minute. Considered in isolation, this is scarcely a conclusive shift.’12 But seen in conjunction with the alterations examined above, it is arguably consistent with the attenuation of the importance of Murphy’s trances.

 

There would seem to emerge then a coherent pattern of modification focussed on Murphy’s situation. Having in the opening pages outlined a paradoxical predicament of perfect symmetry, the French text goes on to underline the helplessness of Murphy’s position by at once strengthening the ties which bind him to the physical, while weakening his grasp on the spiritual fulfilment to which he aspires. The French Murphy, in short, is denied the degree of success enjoyed by his English predecessor.

 

Given this background of textual alteration we can now turn to the sequence of variants referred to earlier, where the French Murphy becomes the target for additional comment. Our first example is without thematic significance; but it remains a remarkable instance of modification, and one which perhaps betrays the stirrings of a more hostile narrative stance. It occurs where Murphy, seeking relief from the torture of job-hunting, decides to take refuge in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. He does not relish the legalistic ambiance of the place, but it has its advantages:

 

            The atmosphere there was foul, a miasma of laws . . . But there

            was grass and there were plane trees (57).

 

In French this is turned to read:

 

            L’atmosphère y était pénible, un miasme de lois . . . Mais il y avait

            de l’herbe et des arbres. Des cèdres, il lui semblait. II avait tort,

            c’étaient des platanes (62).

 

This is a blatant case of setting a character up in order to knock him down. The deliberately manufactured opportunity for direct intervention allows the narrator to assert his own superiority and make the protagonist look silly. On one level, evidently, this is a fine comic device. On another, one senses in the crushing finality of ‘Il avait tort’ a measure of supercilious self-satisfaction. A point has been scored.

 

A more pronouncedly critical note is sounded on the following page of the French text, and this time in a context of greater consequence. Lacking the energy to walk to Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Murphy enters a nearby cafe and gladly takes a seat:

 

            The sensation of the seat of a chair coming together with his

            dropping posteriors at last was so delicious that he rose at once

            and repeated the sit, lingeringly and with intense concentration.

            Murphy did not so often meet with these tendernesses that he

            could afford to treat them lightly (58).

 

The function of this last sentence is to explain and tacitly approve; narrator appears to be aligned with protagonist, recognising implicitly that the repeated sit is not only understandable but justified. In French however this stance is shifted:

 

            Pour ne pas se laisser émouvoir par de telles tendresses, il aurait

            fallu qu’il les cannût mieux (63).

 

This is a more distant voice whose tone is reproving rather than explanatory. There is no doubt a measure of understanding remaining in the recognition that Murphy responds to sensations such as these precisely because he encounters them so rarely; but that recognition proceeds from a rather sternly formulated premise that Murphy should not allow himself to respond at all. Indifference to physical pleasure becomes a discreet prescription, and the opportunity is taken to point up Murphy’s failure to achieve it.13

 

Critical comment of a more overt kind still is occasioned by the final convenient volte-face in Murphy’s attitude towards the nativity drawn up by Pandit Suk. Viewed initially with dismay, and subsequently with enthusiasm, the chart is ultimately dismissed with disdain. Unwilling to accept that his success with the inmates of the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat is due to some astrological configuration of which he is merely the reflection, Murphy neatly turns the tables and sees the stars as a reflection of himself; no longer a prophetic source of guidance, they simply represent ‘a system that seemed the superfluous cartoon of his own’ (130). At this point the French continues with an inserted observation:

 

            Oh! il faisait des progrès, l’infortuné Murphy, il avançait lentement.

            Des progrès! Comme le dernier des cancres (137).

 

The tone here is closer to sarcasm than to irony. Murphy’s intellectual contortions come to provoke impatience rather than tolerant amusement.

 

Further evidence of a diminishing sympathy is perhaps reflected, albeit in a negative way, in the excision from the French of a lengthy and important section which treats Murphy’s entire spiritual adventure with unusual candour. The passage is found where Murphy, disturbed in mid-trance by Ticklepenny, is asked to give an account of himself. It is worth reproducing in full:

 

            Murphy amused himself bitterly and briefly with the question of the

            answer he would have made to a person of his own steak and

            kidney, genuinely anxious to understand and desirable of being

            understood by, a Mr Endon at his own degree of incipience for

            example. But before the imperfect phrase had time to come the

            question crumbled away in its own absurdity, the absurdity of

            saddling such a person with the rationalist prurit, the sceptic rut

            that places the objects of its curiosity on the level of Les Girls. It

            was not under that the rare birds of Murphy’s feather desired to

            stand, but by, by themselves with the best of their attention and by

            the others of their species with any that might be left over. It was

            not in order to obtain an obscene view of the surface that in days

            gone by the Great Auk dived under the ice, the Great Auk now no

            longer seen above it (132-3; omitted from the French, 139).

 

It is a passage which can be said to play a key role in shaping the reader’s response to Murphy. This sympathetic defence, presenting him as one whose quest has a solid and legitimate purpose, offers rare textual confirmation of Murphy’s stature: more than a mere figure of fun, he also deserves our approval and respect. But the reader of the French is denied this explicit counterbalance to the ironic perspective.

 

If the English text was already characterised by a sympathy ‘going so far and no further (then losing patience),’14 then the French, it would seem, shifts this point of transition forward: the sympathy and patience run out sooner. The rara avis has become ‘le derneir des cancres’.

 

Evidently one would hesitate to argue that the variants examined above are, in the context of a dense and often complex novel, sufficiently numerous or radical to leave a reader of the French with a set of responses which differ palpably from those experienced by his English counterpart. Even if this could be adequately demonstrated, which is doubtful, it is not my intention here. My purpose has been to suggest that a comparison of certain details in the two texts reveals a subtle shift in perspective which intensifies the distance separating narrator from protagonist. With the complexities of his situation more sharply illuminated, and with his shortcomings and inadequacies more bleakly exposed, the French Murphy is presented in a somewhat less becoming light.

 

What such a shift might betoken in broader terms is less readily determined. Thus far we have endeavoured to eliminate direct reference to Beckett himself, preferring to concentrate on the material evidence offered by the text. This approach derives initially from a concern to avoid the easy identification of author and narrator. What we have perceived in the French Murphy is not so much a reworking of protagonist (nowhere, for example, is Murphy himself endowed with a more acute awareness of his predicament), as a re-angling of narrative slant; and it is not inconceivable that this narrator-figure, a showy virtuoso who ensures his presence is felt on every page, is as much a fictional creation as any other of the novel’s characters. It could be misleading therefore to assume that the narrator’s new attitude towards Murphy automatically corresponds to Beckett’s own.

 

Now it is no doubt possible to regard this issue as being unnecessarily cautious. The argument could be plausibly advanced that the narrator, however distinct from his creator, remains in essence an intermediary through which the author expresses himself. And the fact that the narrator of the French Murphy is lent a modified attitude denotes, ultimately, an authorial intention. But to argue thus is merely to restate the problem in another way: to what extent can authorial intention be accurately gauged?

 

The difficulty here is the diversity of inferences which may be drawn from the evidence we have set forth. The most obvious of these perhaps is to suggest that in retrospect Beckett came to perceive more fully the complexities inherent in the situation of his own original devising, and set about articulating them more explicitly in the translated text. But this will not of itself account satisfactorily for the less sympathetic stance revealed in the French. Here it is tempting to propose a degree of private association between Murphy and Beckett himself: if Beckett ‘used’ Murphy to explore, with mixed responses, a vexed area of his own inner landscape, then a second confrontation with the text might well engender a modified response, wherein the measure of sympathy born of immediate personal involvement comes to be outweighed by the distancing irony of retrospective self-appraisal.

 

At the same time one might argue with equal justification that the modified perspective of the French derives from the text’s very status as a translation. It seems reasonable to propose that the exercise of self-translation, conducted in a climate of greater detachment than that which accompanies creative originality, might naturally foster a more critical reappraisal of the primary text. Yet here again one perceives subtler possibilities. Beckett has on one occasion at least implied that self-translation is a somewhat discouraging business.15 It is even conceivable then that the French Murphy also becomes the victim of a professional dissatisfaction, whereby the unenthusiastic self-translator vents his feelings by humiliating the creation whose story is the very source of discontent.

 

But these are waters which become progressively deeper. In the last analysis I am reluctant to decisively endorse inferences of this kind; however persuasive, they remain entirely speculative. On an altogether safer level of enquiry, I would prefer to set the new narrative perspective of the French Murphy in the immediate context of Beckett’s writings. Beckett’s early prose fiction displays a clear progression in terms of narrative stance. In More pricks than kicks, where the treatment of Belacqua is unremittingly ironic, not to say openly insulting, the distance between narrator and protagonist could scarcely be greater. This distance is narrowed in Murphy to an ambivalent oscillation between irony and sympathy, and is all but closed in Watt, a narrative which is remarkable for the uncritical patience with which the scribe Sam relates Watt’s interminable mental computations. It is a process of alliance which seems to lead directly to Beckett’s full-scale adoption of the first-person narrative form, where narrator and protagonist become one. Within this scheme the less sympathetic treatment of the French Murphy would seem to mark, relatively speaking, a regression towards the presentation of Belacqua. It is perhaps possible to account for this by proposing a connexion between narrative technique and a thematic progression in these three English works. The shiftless Belacqua is animated, if at all, by no more than a vague predilection for oblivion.16 Murphy at least has the merit of pursuing an ideal, but it is a pursuit entailing self-deception and conveniently simplistic thinking. Watt, on the other hand, has not only a precise purpose,17 but a rigorously rational method which he exercises with dogged consistency. This move from evasion and dishonesty towards confrontation and intellectual integrity is paralleled by a narrative stance which travels from open scorn to tacit approval. Within this thematic and technical evolution the revision of the French Murphy perhaps occupies a natural place. In retrospect, Murphy’s less admirable traits could well emerge in sharper relief and be deemed deserving of a less tolerant treatment.



Notes

1 ‘Samuel Beckett self-translator,’ PMLA, vol. LXXVI, Dec.1961, 613-21.

2 Celia remains an exception to this rule. In translation as in the original, she is the target of only the gentlest mockery.

3 Murphy, 86. All references to the English Murphy are to the Calder edition, London 1963. References to the French Murphy are to the Minuit edition, Paris 1965.

4 In a letter of 1936 to Thomas McGreevy, Beckett refers to the ‘mixture of compassion, patience, mockery’ which characterises his treatment of Murphy. See Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett, a biography, London, Cape, 1978, 228.

5 It is difficult to give precise dates, but the interval between the two texts seems to be less than the eight years suggested by Professor Cohn. The typescript of the English Murphy was being unsuccessfully circulated amongst publishers from the spring of 1936. Routledge accepted it in December 1937, and the text appeared in the spring of the following year. Although the French text was not published by Bordas until 1947, recent evidence has indicated that the translation was begun in mid-1938, and was probably substantially completed before the outbreak of war. It seems likely then that the French Murphy largely predates the composition of Watt. (See Federman and Fletcher, Samuel Beckett. his works and his critics, U of California P, 1970, 39; also Bair, op.cit., 289.)

6 In the West Brompton mew (10); in Hyde Park (74); with Mr Endon (168); in the garret (172-3). A further occasion in the garret (when Murphy is disturbed by Ticklepenny) is obliquely implied by the repetition of the phrase ‘When he came to, or rather from’ used earlier in the Hyde Park episode (cf. 74 and 131).

7 See for example: R. Coe, Beckett, London, Oliver and Boyd, 1964, 5; J. Pilling, Samuel Beckett, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976, 33.

8 Despite the reworking of the opening pages of the French, it has to be observed that the issue of Murphy’s love for the mind remains somewhat vexed. The translation retains the affirmative sixth chapter-heading (‘Amor intellectualis quo Murphy se ipsum amat’); and an equally positive later reference to ‘the self whom he loved’ (133) is rendered faithfully as ‘le moi qu’il aimait’ (140).

9 ‘She could not sit for long in the chair without the impulse stirring, tremulously, as if for an exquisite depravity, to be naked and bound’ (49).

10 ‘When Sensuality rules there is danger of Fits’ (26).

11 See the English Murphy, 161-62, 165.

12 The possibility of accidental omission cannot be entirely ruled out. But the usual care of Beckett’s translation technique (witness the correction of a mathematical error) makes this an unlikely suggestion.

13 It is possible that this sterner attitude also dictates the excision from the French text of a section which again deals uncritically with Murphy’s susceptibility to pleasurable sensation. The eleven-line paragraph begins: ‘Murphy adored many things, to think of him as sad or blasé would be to do him an injustice or too much honour. One of the many things he adored was a ride in one of the new six-wheelers when the traffic was at its height. The deep oversprung seats were most insidious . . .’ (67-8; omitted from the French, 73).

14 See Beckett’s letter of 1936 to McGreevy, Bair, op. cit., 228.

15 In 1957 (when faced with the prospect of translating l’Innommable and Fin de partie) Beckett wrote to Alan Schneider: ‘I have nothing but wastes and wilds of self-translation before me for many miserable months to come’. See ‘Fourteen letters,’ Village voice, March 1958, 8.

16 ‘ “What I am on the look out for” said Belacqua . . . , “is nowhere as far as I can see” ,’ More pricks than kicks, London, Calder and Boyars, 1970, 146.

17 ‘Watt’s concern, deep as it appeared, was not after all with what the figure was, in reality, but with what the figure appeared to be, in reality,’ Watt, London, Calder, 1963, 226.