Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

Samuel Beckett on UbuWeb

Murphy (1938)

  1. Introduction
  2. Section I
  3. Section II
  4. Section III
  5. Section IV, part 1
  6. Section IV, part 2
  7. Section V
  8. Section VI
  9. Section VII
  10. Section VIII
  11. Section IX
  12. Section X
  13. Section XI
  14. Section XII
  15. Section XIII

The complete unabridged text. Narrated by Fionnula Flanagan, starring Colm Meaney (Mr. O'Brien of Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Murphy, and featuring 20 of the finest English and Irish voices in the world.

Written in English and later translated by Beckett into French, Beckett’s second novel was rejected by over forty publishers. Murphy is by its own admission a puppet show, in which Menippean characters with prodigious vocabularies deal with the absurd costs of living: insanity, lust, and love. Despite his stout Irish everyman’s name, Murphy himself is not a puppet, but a consciousness in crisis:

Murphy’s mind pictured itself as a large hollow sphere, hermetically closed to the universe without. This was not an impoverishment, for it excluded nothing that it did not itself contain. Nothing ever had been, was or would be in the universe outside it but was already present as virtual, or actual, or virtual rising into actual, or actual falling into virtual, in the universe inside it.

This “seedy solipsist” is driven into action (such as it is) by a horoscope his lover, Celia Kelly, procures at his request: among other things, it advises him to wear lemon as a lucky colour, to place faith in the years 1936 and 1990, and to take great care “in dealing with publishers, quadrupeds, and tropical swamps.” At Celia’s urging and in a notably reluctant and listless manner, Murphy casts about London for a job, eventually finding a real vocation as a nurse at the Magdalen Mental Mercyseat (called the MMM). Unfortunately for Celia and the other characters looking for him, Murphy finds the catatonia of the MMM’s patients, especially the oblivion of Mr. Endon, supremely attractive – an alternative to consciousness and its attendant pains and inconveniences. After surrendering to him in chess, Murphy stares into his own reflection in Mr. Endon’s unseeing eyes and, thus blessed, retires to his garret in the MMM and “soon his body was quiet.” Perhaps the “excellent gas” from the heater kills him before his final immolation.

Murphy is a funny and precocious book, but also, it must be said, a mean one. There is a quintessential pointlessness to all its characters’ endeavours, with the notable exception of the search for oblivion, which of course needs not to be sought to be eventually encountered. The schemes of Neary, Wylie, and Miss Counihan get nowhere. Cooper does manage to sit down and remove his hat, but he ultimately relapses into drink. Despite his wishes to have his remains flushed down the toilet, Murphy’s ashes are scattered about in a barfight. Celia grimly returns to prostitution. (Indeed, this book of all Beckett’s works shows least sympathy for women, to put it mildly.) Only Mr. Kelly’s kite achieves transcendence, in what might be the book’s most beautiful and terrifying passage:

Except for the sagging soar of line, undoubtedly superb as far as it went, there was nothing to be seen, for the kite had disappeared from view. Mr. Kelly was enraptured. Now he could measure the distance from the unseen to the seen, now he was in a position to determine the point at which seen and unseen met. It would be an unscientific observation, so many and so fitful were the imponderables involved. But the pleasure accruing to Mr. Kelly would be in no way inferior to that conferred (presumably) on Mr. Adams by his beautiful deduction of Neptune from Uranus. He fixed with his eagle eyes a point in the empty sky where he fancied the kite to swim into view, and wound carefully in.

Mr. Kelly’s kite then escapes in much the same way that Murphy has slipped out of the puppet show: by crossing from one realm to the other, from the seen to the unseen. It is not exactly death that is the release here, but simply not being, which so often in Beckett means not being seen.

The reader (addressed as “gentle skimmer”) has to endure quite a lot in this novel. Abstruse allusions fly fast and thick, and words like “Æruginous” and “neo-merovingian” push for more room among Latin relatives. Yet so many of the implements, structures, and devices we associate with Beckett and which recur in so many of his works have their earliest incarnations here, too: the nerve-steadying rocking chair; the interchangeable clowns in pairs or sequence (Bim and Bom, Neary and Wylie); the uneasy love between master and servant (Bim and Ticklepenny, Neary and Cooper); the carefully-paced “rest” between spoken words; and the appreciation of routine’s choreography (the novel’s funniest scene, Murphy’s plan for his biscuits and the interruption thereof by Miss Dew and her beloved doggy, anticipates both the calculated stone-sucking of Molloy and Hamm’s toy dog in Endgame). Murphy is a romance that fails, a mechanism that pulses with life and activity despite itself and its wishes. It is not surprising that it ends in defeat with “the tired heart,” Celia closing her eyes (like the protagonist of Film does to end his narrative existence), and the words All out.

Produced in association with Viper Records, TZ Entertainment, and San Quentin Drama Workshop


Narrator:   Fionnula Flanagan
Murphy: Colm Meaney
Celia: Bairbre Dowling
Neary: Morgan Sheppard
Wylie: Hamilton Camp
Cooper: Fred Wayne
Mr. Kelly: Brendan Dillon
Miss Counihan: Nora Masterson
Miss Carriage: Mary Dryden
Miss Dew, Vera, Char Lady, Cathleen: Sheelagh Cullen
Bim/Bom: Chris Campbell
Ticklepenny: James Lancaster
Mr. Endon: Bernard Kates
Dr. Killiekrankie: Neal Hunt
Coroner: Ian Abercrombie
Civic Guard: Redmond Gleeson
Chandler One: Billy Hayes
Chandler Two: Alan Mandell
Chandler Three Park Ranger: Rick Cluchey
Dr. Fist, Hindu Polyhistor, Chelsea, Pensioner, Barman: R.S. Bailey

Executive Producers: Jonathan and Helena Stuart
Producer: Rick Cluchey
Director, Editor: R.S. Bailey
Story Adaptation to Audio: Rick Cluchey, R.S. Bailey


Samuel Beckett in UbuWeb Film