Demented Particulars: The Annotated Murphy

By C. J. Ackerley | Go to book overview

Demented Particulars: The Annotated Murphy

Title

Murphy: what’s in a name? As Stephen Dedalus says to Leopold Bloom, “Shakespeares were as common as Murphies” [Ulysses, 578]. Neary’s experience [55] is salutary: “He began feebly to look for a thread that might lead him to Murphy among the nobility, tradesmen and gentry of that name in Dublin, but soon left off, appalled.” Critical offerings are equally discouraging: a “morphe” or form; translation of that morpheme to Morpheus, God of Sleep (“wrapped in the arms of Murphy” [Ulysses, 614]); a cause of such sleep being (since 1829) the Cork stout of that name (our Murphy is Dublin-brewed); a name beginning with the 13th letter of the alphabet; indeed, the surgical quality of that most common of Irish surnames (Christian unknown). Less likely: Uncle Sam’s folding bed, patently manufactured by Sighle Kennedy; an Irish potato, an irrational root [O’Hara, Hidden Drives, 48], le grand peutêtre; homage to Fritz Lang’s M [Bair, 242]; Mr. Murphy’s Island, a 1921 comedy by Elizabeth Harts, performed at the Abbey 16.8.26 (not ticked off by Beckett as one he had seen [BIF, 1227/1/2/6]); and “Murphystown” with its ruined castle near Beckett’s Foxrock home [O’Brien, 23]. Quite possibly: Dr. Johnson’s friend Arthur Murphy, who appears with Hugo Kelly in Beckett’s ‘Human Wishes’ [BIF, 3461/1]. My preferences are simple:

, atomic shapes which generate all objects of sense [Beare, 163]; the pseudangelic sailor of ‘Eumaeus’; the chessy eye of Paul Morphy [see #242.1]; a hint of Finnegans Wake [see #105.5]; and the determinism implied by Murphy’s Law: if anything can go wrong it will.


1

1.1 [5]: The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new: in accordance with the scriptural conclusion, “there is no new thing under the sun” [Ecclesiastes 1:9], or the dictum of Heraklites, Fragment #32: “The sun is new every day” [Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, 135]. From the beginning of the novel (September 12, 1935) to its end (October 26) sun and moon are “bound” by inexorable laws: on the foredawn of Murphy’s death (October 21) [250-51], the moon “had been obliged” to set, and the sun “could not rise” for an hour to come. The Big World is a deterministic machine, if not an “infernal machine,” or an anarchist bomb, set to explode at a given time. The opening sentence encapsulates both its workings and its indifference to the little world of man, and mind.

1.2 [5]: as though he were free: the mood is conditional, for the only way “out of it” (i.e., the condition of contingency imposed by the Big World) is to retreat into the freedom of the mind, and, when that proves impossible, by death.

1.3 [5]: West Brompton: a district of London between Chelsea and Earl’s Court, South Kensington and Fulham Park. Beckett lived from September 1934 until late 1935 with the Frost family at 34 Gertrude Street, SW10, technically in Chelsea. This is the first setting of ‘Lightning Calculation,’ an early draft of Murphy, in which one Quigley looks out from his balcony into the hospital opposite. Murphy’s mew, in the French translation to be located in “l’Impasse de l’Enfant-Jésus,” a ruelle near des Favorites [Knowlson, 363], is to the west; curiously, in a novel where so much is detailed, no precise location is given [see #63.1].

-28-

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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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