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A Beckett Canon

Ruby Cohn

Publication Year: 2001

Samuel Beckett is unique in literature. Born and educated in Ireland, he lived most of his life in Paris. His literary output was rendered in either English or French, and he often translated one to the other, but there is disagreement about the contents of his bilingual corpus. A Beckett Canon by renowned theater scholar Ruby Cohn offers an invaluable guide to the entire corpus, commenting on Beckett's work in its original language. Beginning in 1929 with Beckett's earliest work, the book examines the variety of genres in which he worked: poems, short stories, novels, plays, radio pieces, teleplays, reviews, and criticism. Cohn grapples with the difficulties in Beckett's work, including the opaque erudition of the early English verse and fiction, and the searching depths and syntactical ellipsis of the late works. Specialist and nonspecialist readers will find A Beckett Canon valuable for its remarkable inclusiveness. Cohn has examined the holdings of all of the major Beckett depositories, and is thus able to highlight neglected manuscripts and correct occasional errors in their listings. Intended as a resource to accompany the reading of Beckett's writing--in English or French, published or unpublished, in part or as a whole--the book offers context, information, and interpretation of the work of one of the last century's most important writers. Ruby Cohn is Professor Emerita of Comparative Drama, University of California, Davis. She is author or editor of many books, including Anglo-American Interplay in Recent Drama; Retreats from Realism in Recent English Drama; From Desire to Godot; and Just Play: Beckett's Theater.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance

Abbreviations and Conventions

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pp. xi-xii

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1929–31: Rather Too Self-Conscious

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pp. 1-32

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...

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1932–33: Intricate Festoons of Words

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pp. 33-63

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.

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1934–36: These Demented Particulars

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pp. 64-87

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...

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1937–40: No Trifle Too Trifling

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pp. 88-107

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...

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1941–45: Semantic Succour

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pp. 108-126

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

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1946: J’Ouvre la Série

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pp. 127-151

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...

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1947–49: Mais la Réalité, Trop Fatigué Pour Chercher le Mot Juste

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pp. 152-183

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...

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1950–52 Rien à faire

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pp. 184-208

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...

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1953–58 Then These Flashes, or Gushes

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pp. 209-243

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...

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1959–61: Fresh Elements and Motifs

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pp. 244-275

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...

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1962–69: A Little Rush, Then Another

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pp. 276-307

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...

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1970–76: Soudain ou Peu à Peu

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pp. 308-344

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...

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1977–89: Comment Dire

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pp. 345-384

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

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pp. 385-386

Appendix 2: Beckett’s Self-Translations

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pp. 387-388


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pp. 389-406

Works Cited

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pp. 407-414

Index of Works by Beckett

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pp. 415-417

Index of Proper Names

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pp. 418-420

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025930
E-ISBN-10: 0472025937
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472031313
Print-ISBN-10: 0472031317

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: Theater: Theory/Text/Performance