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Reviewed by:
  • Beckett and Myth: An Archetypal Approach
  • Melvin J. Friedman
Mary A. Doll. Beckett and Myth: An Archetypal Approach. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1988. 106 pp. $23.95.

Mary Doll makes clear on the opening page of her Introduction the need for her brief study: "only six critics have made myth the center of their focus on Beckett"; "Beckett's work is resoundingly mythic." Her approach is as businesslike and spare as her prose as she makes her way through a significant part of the Beckett canon—the criticism and poetry as well as the drama and fiction—while tracing recurring myths and archetypes. The three classical myths invoked are those of Cronus, Narcissus and Echo, and Demeter and Persephone; and these are linked with recurring archetypes, such as the old man, the old woman, and the child. As might be imagined, Jung's theories are introduced with regularity. Mary Doll also uses to considerable advantage the writings of Mircea Eliade and James Hillman (who at one point we are told "speaks the same language as Beckett").

When she introduces words like deconstruction and metafiction, she is scrupulous about defining them. Indeed, she never retreats behind any special vocabulary. At its best her critical prose can manage a certain elegance: "Beckett, however, denies us all such heroics. While his work clearly echoes heroic quest patterns, he refuses to grant us the luxury which hero patterns afford. His characters do not shoulder our burdens nor clarify our condition." Doll seems to delight in Beckett's word plays, making one feel that she subscribes to the gospel according to Murphy, "In the beginning was the pun." One of those Wakean words "extraaudenary," which Beckett used in a 1938 book review in transition, seems to have attracted Doll's attention. In her third chapter, in which she concentrates on the myth of Echo, she indulges in her own word plays, especially on the final page: "echoing Echo"; "rounds will echo rounds"; "the dust C sees in the library echoes dust he sees in the portrait gallery, dust to dust"; "the two scenes echo each other"; "syllables echo."

Doll is at ease not only with Beckett's work but also with the criticism. Her five-part bibliography, which runs almost ten pages, accommodates writing by and about Beckett as well as secondary material concerned with archetypal psychology and with religion and myth. Alas, this bibliography contains an uncommon number of mistakes. For example, Herbert Blau's book is entitled The Eye of Prey, not The Eye of the Prey. The subtitle of Susan D. Brienza's Samuel Beckett's New Worlds is Style in Metafiction, not Styles of Metafiction. Richard Ellmann's [End Page 341] surname is misspelled (as it is elsewhere in the book). There are three mistakes in the entry on Martin Esslin's The Theatre of the Absurd. Beryl S. Fletcher's first name appears incorrectly. The collection that includes Josephine Jacobsen and William R. Mueller's essay, Man in the Modern Theatre, is edited by Nathan A. Scott, Jr., not by Martin Esslin. Susanne Langer's first name appears incorrectly as Suzanne.

The notes present similar difficulties. In note 1 on page 83 Arthur Sch; penhauer's surname appears incorrectly as does that of William York Tindall. In note 6 on page 84 the title of Lawrence Harvey's book should be Samuel Beckett: Poet and Critic, not Samuel Beckett: The Poet and Critic; à priori should be a priori. In note 10 on page 85 "isolée" should be "isolée." Her problems with French carry into the text when she quotes a twelve-line untitled poem by Beckett: in line one "le cavern" should be "la caverne" and in line five "long viols" should be "longs viols." Deirdre Bair's first name appears incorrectly as Dierdre three times; once Bair is oddly referred to as Beckett's "autobiographer. " Finally I should mention that in Doll's discussion of Moran she refers to "his fondness of his dog Zulu." Actually Zulu belongs to the Eisner sisters, not to Moran.

This is a sampling, not a complete list. These too-frequent lapses are especially regrettable in a book as useful as...


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