Chess in Literature: Murphy vs. Mr. Endon in 'Murphy' by Samuel Beckett

| 9

In Samuel Beckett's novel, Murphy, the eponymous protagonist takes a job as a male nurse in a mental hospital, wherein he plays the chess game below with one of the patients there, Mr Endon.  

This is not a normal game of chess. It soon becomes clear that neither player is playing to win in the conventional sense. After staring at endless chess positions and games, it's refreshing to read through a game where the pieces are liberated from their usual roles and goals, and it's also very funny. Beckett spoofs the kind of comments you see in annotated chess games, for example: '(k) Black has now an irresistible game' after another baffling move and '(j) The ingenuity of despair' after White offers the Queen sacrifice. 

Mr. Endon plays a different kind of chess and Murphy can only humour him, carefully to not upset his mentally fragile patient. It's a kind of contemplative, meditative aesthetic chess. In many ways Murphy's moves would seem ont he whole more useful and goal-directed but in this new context, they are ugly, whereas Mr. Endon's pieces move back and forth like they are dancing with each other. 

Below is the chess game from p151-3 of 'Murphy'. The annotations are all Beckett's.