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Reviews423 Lois Gordon. The World ofSamuel Beckett 1906-1946. New Haven and New York: Yale University Press, 1996. Pp. ix + 250. $28.50. There is a modernist tradition in which writers like Flaubert, Proust, and Joyce lived lives of controlled dullness, the better to come to life on the pages they wrote. Beckett is ordinarily assumed to inhabit such an inner circle of writers dedicated to withdrawal from the ordinary world, a withdrawal traditionally assumed always to be more exciting than the world in which the writer writes. His shyness, his modesty, his preferred working-habits, the tradition in which he wrote, his reputation for "difficulty" have all reinforced the legend of an isolated genius who worked in solitude. The legend has always been too simple, though Beckett did not hurry to dispel the advantages it affords. The places in which he lived and which he chose to visit clearly influenced and reinforced his attitudes and preoccupations. He was born into affluent middle-class Protestant suburban-Dublin society at a particularly troubled time in Irish history, and this influenced his sense of being-in-the-world and the kind of English which rang in his ears. His meetings with Joyce and Jack B. Yeats were turning-points in the way he conceived he might himself become an artist. The European cities he lived in during the 1930's—Paris, London, and Berlin, among others—helped reinforce his understanding of what happens in what his characters call the big world as he gained control over his own little one. Again, his experiences during and after World War II, when he worked for the French Resistance in Roussillon and for the Irish Red Cross among the ruins at St. Lo, contributed in different ways to consolidate ideas and attitudes which had been slowly forming during the previous decades. By 1946, the agenda had clarified to a point where he was able to return to Paris to begin writing the books by which he is best known. Lois Gordon's story follows an outline familiar from many general surveys of Beckett's career, but her emphasis is less on the man and the people he met than on the contexts through which he moved. Her argument is defined in a running dialogue with Deirdre Bair's biography on behalf of Beckett's social and political awareness of the world around him. Thus, while Beckett's Dublin background has been memorably illustrated in photographic terms by Eoin O'Brien in The Beckett Country, she concentrates on the troubled background events of the Ireland in which Beckett grew up. She writes about the turmoil of French political life as Beckett must have known it when he lived in 1930' s Paris, about the economic depression in England while he was in London , about Germany under increasing Nazi hegemony, about the complicated pattern of loyalties in German-occupied and Vichy France. She provides a kind of Pathé-News montage of the landscapes through which Beckett moved and which, she argues, must somehow have impinged on his awareness. There are a few visual illustrations—posters, newspapers, events—but the description in words attempts something 424Comparative Drama potentially more complicated than what a picture-book might achieve. The approach nonetheless contains inherent problems. When she lists books published on science when Beckett was at Trinity College (p. 22), or stage-plays he might have seen in London or heard on BBC radio during 1933-34 (pp. 122-23), or the escalating tempo of Nazi repression and rallies (p. 129), who knows if Beckett took any notice of the things on the lists. Though he was in a particular place at a particular time, he might have been preoccupied with things other than what was in the news. In London, for instance, he seems to have been more interested in paintings in the National Gallery than in British politics , more interested in Samuel Johnson and Mrs. Thrale than in George Orwell and Virginia Woolf, more interested in psychoanalysis than in the problems of a dying colonial economy and an ossified class structure . Gordon's approach is to list what happened in a place and then say Beckett "must have...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 423-426
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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