A Beckett Canon
Publication Year: 2001
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance
Abbreviations and Conventions
1929–31: Rather Too Self-Conscious
Having read nothing by Beckett, I fell in love with his En attendant Godot in 1953, when it was performed at the short-lived Théâtre de Babylone in Paris. That passion spurred me to read Beckett’s few publications, and I continued to read as he wrote through the decades—magnetized by his unique depth and originality. I published an article on Beckett in 1959, after a prior rejection: “We like your criticism, but...
1932–33: Intricate Festoons of Words
Beckett’s new career began modestly with a short poem. Beckett told Harvey that the title came from the name of a beer, in which he indulged copiously while on Christmas vacation in Kassel, Germany. However, Pilling (1999a) has shown that the poem is nourished by Beckett’s study of the French troubadour poets.
1934–36: These Demented Particulars
While undergoing psychoanalysis with Dr. Wilfred Bion in London, Beckett published very little. I do not imply a plausible concatenation between the two activities, or inactivities, but the analysis—often three sessions weekly— must have been draining, emotionally and financially. Although Beckett hoped to earn money from literary journalism, assignments were meager. During the calendar year 1934 Beckett’s prose was concerned to seven brief book reviews, a longer review essay...
1937–40: No Trifle Too Trifling
Beckett took his German art tour seriously, making copious notes that came to light only after his death. Bair, who had no access to this notebook, stresses Beckett’s commitment to art, but Knowlson, who read “the unknown diaries,” stresses Beckett’s aversion to Nazi personalities and rhetoric. Once back in Dublin, Beckett began his thirty-first year by wriggling out of possible employment. With...
1941–45: Semantic Succour
It is miraculous that Beckett, an Irish national active in the French Resistance, was able to work creatively during World War II. In 1940 Beckett replaced his friend Alfred P
1946: J’Ouvre la Série
Beckett spent his first few months in postwar Paris learning the sad fate of friends. Joyce had died in Zurich in 1941, and his faithful amanuensis Paul Léon was murdered by the Nazis in 1942. Alfred Péron, perhaps Beckett’s closest French friend, had been tortured in a concentration camp; he died in Switzerland on his way home on May 16, 1945 (Bair, 341). It is impossible to imagine Beckett reveling in Paris scenes...
1947–49: Mais la Réalité, Trop Fatigué Pour Chercher le Mot Juste
Perhaps Beckett felt that Le Calmant took him as far as he could penetrate toward an avatar of being that was garbed in splenetic namelessness. Whatever the provocation, he veered suddenly from fiction to theater, beginning Eleutheria on January 18, and completing that three-act play on February 24. From the unlocalized settings of the French fiction, Beckett turned to a highly localized Paris in his first French play, but neither...
1950–52 Rien à faire
In March 1949, some ten months after completing Malone meurt, Beckett began a novel as Mahood, which he concluded only in January 1950, as L’Innommable. Still financially dependent upon translation, he accepted a UNESCO assignment to translate some hundred Mexican poems, about which he later wrote Hugh Kenner: “That lousy Mexican Anthology was undertaken to take the chill...
1953–58 Then These Flashes, or Gushes
On January 5, 1953, En attendant Godot opened at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris, but Beckett sought refuge in Ussy. Although the production was not the incendiary explosion of which legends are made, it did bring Beckett some modest public attention. Since he was already at a creative impasse, buffeted between “je” and “il” in fiction, the staging of Godot offered him no palliative. On the contrary. When Suzanne...
1959–61: Fresh Elements and Motifs
Beckett continued to think that he was at a creative impasse, but he also continued to experiment with new forms of drama and fiction. I draw the title of my chapter from Beckett’s translation of the foirade, “Il est tête nue,” but the phrase is applicable to other works as well. At the end of 1958 Beckett started a story, which he labeled “Pim,” and that fiction became his major preoccupation during 1959. However, lesser works also exhibit...
1962–69: A Little Rush, Then Another
As was becoming habitual, Beckett jabbed fitfully at creating texts in each of his two languages, but he found it difficult to complete even brief compositions. For example, although a sexual triangle might seem like the quintessential French subject, he began such a play in English in 1961; he gnawed at it sporadically during 1962, and, dissatisfied with the result, he nevertheless gave it to the Tophovens to translate for a German premiere...
1970–76: Soudain ou Peu à Peu
By the time Beckett received the Nobel Prize, four of his publishers had become his friends—Lindon, Calder, Rosset, and Unseld—and it was to avoid disappointing these friends that he exhumed unpublished works—Premier Amour, Mercier et Camier, fragmentary plays, short pieces that he gathered as foirades. He agreed to a commercial...
1977–89: Comment Dire
It is likely that the biblical life-span of three score and ten years struck Beckett’s mind during his seventieth year, but he remained active. He flew twice to Germany: in May to Stuttgart to direct his recent two teleplays, and in September to Berlin to direct Rick Cluchey in Krapp’s Last Tape. There and elsewhere he scribbled brief poems, mainly in French...
Appendix 1: Beckett and Performance
Appendix 2: Beckett’s Self-Translations
Index of Works by Beckett
Index of Proper Names