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The World of Samuel Beckett, 1906-1946

The World of Samuel Beckett, 1906-1946

Lois Gordon
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The World of Samuel Beckett, 1906-1946
    Book Description:

    Samuel Beckett, whose playWaiting for Godotwas one of the most influential works for the post-World War II generation, has long been identified with the debilitated and impotent characters he created. In this provocative book, Lois Gordon offers a new perspective on Beckett, challenging the prevalent image of him as reclusive, self-absorbed, and disturbed. Gordon investigates the first forty years of Beckett's life and finds that he was, on the contrary, a kind and generous man who responded sensitively and even heroically to the world around him.Gordon describes the various places and events that affected Beckett during this formative period: war-torn Dublin during the Easter Uprising and World War I, where he spent his childhood and student days; Belfast and Paris in the 1920s and London during the Depression, where he lived and worked; Germany in 1937, where he traveled and witnessed Hitler's brutal domestic policies; prewar and occupied France, where he was active in the Resistance (for which he was later decorated); and the war-ravaged town of Saint-Lô in Normandy, which he helped to restore following the liberation. Gordon also portrays the individuals who were important to Beckett, including Jack B. Yeats, Alfred Péron, Thomas McGreevy, and, most significantly, James Joyce, who was a model for Beckett personally, artistically, and politically. Gordon argues convincingly that Beckett was very much aware of the political and cultural turmoil of this period and that the enormously creative works he wrote after World War II can, in fact, be viewed as a product of and testament to those tumultuous times.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14344-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Beckett as Hero
    (pp. 1-6)

    Samuel Beckett was a kind, modest man. Throughout his life, he avoided interviews, audiences, and, when it finally arrived, celebrity. He declined to surround himself with a coterie of admirers, or to propose political or moral solutions before a public perpetually in search of celebrity wisdom. Yet, over the decades, he met informally and readily—if briefly—with many who expressed an interest in his work. He elicited, as the common element in the efforts to portray him, the wordsgoodnessandcompassion. His “common decency” is “almost unnatural,” wrote one acquaintance, explaining: “He never disparages anyone, for he seems...

  5. ONE Ireland
    (pp. 7-31)

    Samuel Barclay Beckett was born at Cooldrinagh, the family home in Foxrock, a wealthy Dublin suburb, on April (or May) 13, 1906. Although his official birth certificate designates the latter, Beckett always insisted on the former, and the date had a special significance for him. It was not only a Friday the thirteenth but also Good Friday. The thirteenth day of a month was, oddly enough, the day Dante, Samuel Johnson, James Joyce, and Beckett’s only brother, Frank, died—all people of inestimable importance in his life; Saint Augustine was also born on the thirteenth.

    Beckett’s parents, William (Bill) and...

  6. TWO Paris, 1928
    (pp. 32-52)

    Paris in the 1920s was a dazzling city of frenetic energy and prodigious creativity. Yet for all its gaiety and sophistication, underlying cynicism and sadness enveloped the city. Maurice Nadeau attributes its mercurial moods—its postwar “madness”—to the spiritual and emotional devastation of the Great War; the grandest of human talents seemed to have been subverted to the meanest of human purposes: “In [the] disproportion between means and ends . . . the madness . . . appeared. . . .Science, whose noblest efforts . . . perfected only another extermination weapon; . . . philosophies, . . ....

  7. THREE James Joyce
    (pp. 53-82)

    Central to Beckett’s life in Paris during the late 1920s and early 1930s was his relationship with James Joyce. Beckett and Joyce were in close contact from 1928 to 1930 and again between 1937 and 1939. Joyce left Paris in December 1939 and died in Zurich on January 13, 1941. I shall concentrate on the 1928–30 period, as most of the available information focuses on these years.

    Richard Ellmann’s definitive Joyce biography, first published in 1959, provides many of the specifics; indeed, subsequent biographical material on both Joyce and the Beckett-Joyce relationship builds upon Ellmann’s findings.¹ However, several of...

  8. FOUR Jack B. Yeats
    (pp. 83-91)

    Beckett returned to Dublin in the summer of 1930. As stipulated by his commencement awards, after his two years of teaching at the Ecole he was to teach three more at Trinity and complete his master’s degree. Having spent two extraordinary years in Paris—gaining the acquaintance of and publishing alongside the great artists of the time—he moved into his rooms at the college and assumed his newly created position as lecturer in French and assistant to his former professor, Thomas B. Rudmose-Brown. He also pursued his study of Descartes, Geulincx, Kant, and Schopenhauer and took his master’s degree...

  9. FIVE London
    (pp. 92-125)

    Beckett moved to London at the end of 1933, where he remained for nearly three years.¹ Although accounts of his life there are sparse, numerous momentous events help clarify why these were, as he put it, “bad” years—“bad in every way”—“psychologically and financially.”² Perhaps most critical was the death of his father in June 1933. Their relationship was so close that William Beckett “carried his son’s recent letters on his person until the day he died.” And after he died, the bereft Samuel Beckett said: “What am I to do now but follow his trace over the fields...

  10. SIX Germany and Prewar Paris
    (pp. 126-139)

    Beckett made a short trip to Dublin after leaving London and then prepared for a journey through Germany—primarily to Hanover, Munich, Berlin, and Dresden, with additional stops in Lübeck, Lüneburg, Halle, Weimar, Hamburg, Würzburg, Regensburg, Nuremberg, Leipzig, and Brunswick.¹ Of Beckett’s mental state during this trip, Bair remarks that he was entirely preoccupied with his health and his difficulties in publishingMurphy.He traveled, she reports, in a state of indifference to the political events around him: “It [was] almost as though Beckett moved through a phantom country in which he was the only occupant, paintings were the only...

  11. SEVEN France
    (pp. 140-167)

    When the war began in Europe, Beckett was visiting his family in Foxrock. As a neutral alien, he could have remained in Ireland. Instead, he rushed back to Paris and, in the fall of 1940, joined the Resistance. As he told Alan Simpson: “I was fighting against the Germans, who were making life hell for my friends, and not for the French nation.”¹ Alec Reid remarks of Beckett’s war activities: “[Beckett] took no active part in affairs until the Germans occupied Paris. . . . Then the war suddenly became something personal and with meaning. Like Joyce, Beckett had many...

  12. EIGHT Roussillon
    (pp. 168-185)

    Until 1942, Resistance activities in the south and occupied areas were different in terms of risk, if not of motivation. By November 1942, when Beckett arrived in Roussillon, the stakes had changed. As discussed in chapter 7, the Germans had not only marched into this previously protected zone, but the new STO compulsory labor law (proposed 1942 but not passed until February 13, 1943) was demanding conscription of all males into German factories. Following its losses at the Russian Germany had drafted all its own young men into the military. Now was a conspicuous need for additional factory workers in...

  13. NINE Saint-Lô
    (pp. 186-204)

    Despite the relief and jubilation of the Liberation, France was to face yet another battle—in terms of political, economic, and social survival. Of the political situation, Henri Michel writes: “[After the Liberation] political forces were thrown completely into confusion; the Right suffered from having supported Vichy, and temporarily disappeared from the political scene; by failing to play an active part in the Resistance, the Radical Socialists lost their pre-eminent position; . . . the big Roman Catholic party . . . drew members from these two discredited parties; the Socialists merely took up their pre-war position. New factors [included]...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 205-242)
  15. Index
    (pp. 243-250)