Demented Particulars: The Annotated Murphy

By C. J. Ackerley | Go to book overview

Preface

Reading Beckett’s Reading: The Demented Particulars

That much of Samuel Beckett’s early writing is intimately, even inextricably, tied to his reading is one of the primary developments of current Beckett scholarship. Much of the direct evidence for such connection emerged only after Beckett’s death in 1989 with the discovery of documents whose existence was previously unknown: notebooks and chapbooks from the early years, particularly the German diaries of 1936-37 and what is generally called the Whoroscope Notebook (or, as John Pilling prefers, the Murphy Notebook) of the same period, for example. As James Knowlson explains in his 1996 biography of Beckett, the more we know about Beckett’s reading, matter and method, the more fully we understand his creativity, much of which develops through what Knowlson calls a “grafting technique,” and, moreover, the more direct resemblance we find to methods of composition employed by Beckett’s fellow Dubliner, James Joyce:

Certain parallels between Beckett’s early methods and those of Joyce are
fairly obvious. Joyce took particular care with his research, reading books pri-
marily for what they could offer him for his own writing. (Indeed many people
who knew him, including Beckett, have claimed he read almost exclusively
for this purpose.) Though he was inspired more by disinterested intellectual
and scholarly curiosity than Joyce was, Beckett’s notebooks show that he too
plundered the books he was reading or studying for material that he would
then incorporate into his own writing. Beckett copied out striking, memorable
or witty sentences or phrases into his notebooks. Such quotations or near
quotations were then woven into the dense fabric of his early prose. It is what
could be called a grafting technique, and at times it almost runs wild. He even
checked off the quotations in his private notebooks once they had been incor-
porated into his own work. This technique was not specifically adopted by
Joyce, but it was very Joycean in its ambition and its impulse. (109)

We have known for some time how heavily Joyce relied on The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola for the structure of Chapter III, the retreat at Belvedere, of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. James R. Thrane has further demonstrated the scope of Joyce’s use of a 1688 text by an Italian Jesuit, Giovanni Pietro Pinamonti, Hell Opened to Christians, To Caution Them from Entering into It (English translation, Dublin, 1868) in that same chapter of Portrait. James S. Atherton has demonstrated in the notes to his 1964 edition of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that all of Stephen Dedalus’s quotations from John Henry Newman derive from a single source, Characteristics from the Writings of John Henry Newman (London, 1875). Atherton also discovered Joyce’s principal sources for the ‘Oxen in the Sun’ chapter of Ulysses: Saintsbury’s History of English Prose Rhythm (1912) and Peacock’s English Prose: Mandeville to Ruskin (1903).

In Beckett’s case, whole passages of his aborted novel of 1932 (published only in 1992), Dream of Fair to middling Women, came directly from St. Augustine’s Confessions. Belacqua Shua, for instance, describes the Smeraldina-Rima: “She is, she exists in one and the same way, she is every way like her herself, in no way can she be injured or changed, she is not subject to time, she cannot at one time be other than at another” (Dream 41). James Knowlson informs us that, “These are the precise words that St. Augustine used to define true Being” (112, emphasis added). It should come as little surprise then, as critics are slowly discovering, that most of Dream may

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Demented Particulars: The Annotated Murphy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • The Sheep in Hyde Park iv
  • Table of Contents 1
  • Acknowledgements 2
  • Prefatory Statement 4
  • Preface to the Second Edition 5
  • Preface 6
  • Introduction 10
  • A Note on Methodology 25
  • Chronology 26
  • Demented Particulars- The Annotated Murphy 28
  • Bibliography 216
  • Index 236
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