1955 Grove Press edition
|Translator||Patrick Bowles, in collaboration with the author|
|Publisher||Les Éditions de Minuit (French); Grove Press (English)|
|French, 1951; English, 1955|
|Followed by||Malone Dies (Malone Meurt)|
On first appearance the book concerns two different characters, both of whom have interior monologues in the book. As the story moves along the two characters are distinguished by name only as their experiences and thoughts are similar. The novel is set in an indeterminate place, most often identified with the Ireland of Beckett's birth. It was written in Paris, along with the other two books (Malone Dies and The Unnamable) of 'The Trilogy', between 1947 and 1950. This triptych of novels is generally considered to be one of the most important literary works of the 20th century, and the most important non-dramatic work in Beckett's oeuvre.
The majority of the first chapter is made up of Molloy's inner musings interspersed with the action of the plot. It is split into two paragraphs. The first is less than two pages long; the second paragraph lasts for over eighty pages. In the first we are given a vague idea of the setting Molloy is writing in. We are told that he now lives in his mother's room, though how he arrived there or whether his mother died before or during his stay is apparently forgotten. There is also a man who arrives every Sunday to pick up what Molloy has written and bring back what he had taken last week returning them "marked with signs" though Molloy never cares to read them. He describes that his purpose while writing is to "speak of the things that are left, say [his] goodbyes, finish dying." In the second paragraph he describes a journey he had taken some time earlier, before he came there, to find his mother. He spends much of it on his bicycle, gets arrested for resting on it in a way that is considered lewd, but is unceremoniously released. From town to anonymous town and across anonymous countryside, he encounters a succession of bizarre characters: an elderly man with a stick; a policeman; a charity worker; a woman whose dog he kills running over it with a bike (her name is never completely determined: "a Mrs Loy... or Lousse, I forget, Christian name something like Sophie"), and one whom he falls in love with ("Ruth" or maybe "Edith"); He abandons his bicycle (which he will not call "bike"), walks in no certain direction, meeting "a young old man"; a charcoal-burner living in the woods, whom he attacks and savagely beats.
The second is by a private detective by the name of Jacques Moran, who is given the task by his boss, the mysterious Youdi, of tracking down Molloy. He sets out, taking his recalcitrant son, also named Jacques, with him. They wander across the countryside, increasingly bogged down by the weather, decreasing supplies of food and Moran's suddenly failing body. He sends his son to purchase a bicycle and while his son is gone, Moran encounters two strange men, one of whom Moran murders (in manner comparable to Molloy's), and then hides his body in the forest. Eventually, the son disappears, and he struggles home. At this point in the work, Moran begins to pose several odd theological questions, which make him appear to be going mad. Having returned to his home, now in a state of shambles and disuse, Moran switches to discussing his present state. He has begun to use crutches, just as Molloy does at the beginning of the novel. Also a voice, which has appeared intermittently throughout his part of the text, has begun to significantly inform his actions. The novel ends with Moran explaining that the voice told him "to write the report."
Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.
Thus, Moran forsakes reality, beginning to descend into the command of this "voice" which may in fact mark the true creation of Molloy. Due to the succession of the book from the first part to the second, the reader is led to believe that time is passing in a similar fashion; however, the second part could be read as a prequel to the first.
Characters in Molloy
- Molloy is a vagrant, currently bedridden; it appears he is a seasoned veteran in vagrancy, reflecting that "To him who has nothing it is forbidden not to relish filth." He is surprisingly well-educated, having studied geography, among other things, and seems to know something of "old Geulincx". He has a number of bizarre habits, not least of which is the sucking of pebbles, described by Beckett in a long and detailed passage, and also having an odd and rather morbid attachment to his mother (who may or may not be dead).
- Moran is a private detective, with a housekeeper, Martha, and son, Jacques, both of whom he treats with scorn. He is pedantic and extremely ordered, pursuing the task set him logically, to the point of absurdity, expressing fear that his son will catch him masturbating and being an extreme disciplinarian. He also shows an insincere reverence for the church and deference to the local priest. As the novel progresses, his body begins to fail for no visible or specified reason, a fact that surprises him, and his mind begins to decline to the point of insanity. This similarity in bodily and mental decline leads readers to believe that Molloy and Moran are in fact two facets of the same personality, or that the section narrated by Molloy is actually written by Moran.
- Molloy's Mother Though never seen alive, Molloy's Mother is mentioned at various points in the chapter; her house being both the destination of the journey he describes as well as his residence while writing it. Molloy refers to her as Mag as "the letter g abolished the syllable Ma, and as it were spat on it, better than any other letter would have done." He communicates with her using a knocking method (as she is apparently both deaf and blind) where he hits her on the head with the knuckle of his index finger: "One knock meant yes, two no, three I don't know, four money, five goodbye." At times this seems more of an excuse to be violent towards her; when asking for money he would replace the knocks with "one or more (according to my needs) thumps of the fist, on her skull." He seems to hold extreme contempt for his mother both for her condition and for the fact she failed to kill him during her pregnancy.
Allusions/references to other works
Molloy includes references to a number of Beckett's other works, especially the characters, who are revealed as fictional characters in the same manner as Molloy and Moran: "Oh the stories I could tell you if I were easy. What a rabble in my head, what a gallery of moribunds. Murphy, Watt, Yerk, Mercier and all the others." (Part II)
Imagery from Dante is present throughout the novel, as in much of Beckett's work. In Part I, Molloy compares himself to Belacqua from the Purgatorio, Canto IV and Sordello from the Purgatorio, Canto VI. There are also Molloy's frequent references to the various positions of the sun, which calls to mind similar passages in the Purgatorio.
- French original: Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1951
- English: 1955, Paris: Olympia Press, paperback; NY: Grove Press
- Included in Three Novels. NY: Grove Press, 1959
- In The Grove Centenary Edition, Vol. II: Novels. NY: Grove Press, 2006
A reading of selected passages from Part 1 of Molloy was broadcast on the BBC Third Programme on 10 December 1957, and repeated on 13 December. Beckett selected the passages, which were read by the actor Patrick Magee, and incidental music, performed by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, was composed by Samuel's cousin John S. Beckett. The producer was Donald McWhinnie.
- , A NY Times theater review mentioning the significance of the Trilogy.
- , An article in the New Yorker about Beckett's legacy.
- , Editorial about Beckett from Ceasefire magazine mentioning the significance of the Trilogy.
- , Notes allusions to Dante in Molloy and Murphy.
- Gannon, Charles: John S. Beckett – The Man and the Music, pp. 114–6, 117. Dublin: 2016, Lilliput Press. ISBN 9781843516651.