Beckett, Samuel (1906-1989)

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Author: Lydia Rainford
Editor: Jay Parini
Date: 2002
Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons
Document Type: Critical essay; Excerpt; Biography
Length: 12,386 words

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Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

Lydia Rainford

SAMUEL BARCLAY BECKETT was born at Cooldrinagh in Foxrock, County Dublin, Ireland on Good Friday, 13 April 1906. He was the second-born of two sons of Protestant, middle-class parents, his father a self-made businessman. Samuel proved to be an excellent pupil at school, thriving at both sport and academic work. He went on to study Modern Languages at Trinity College, Dublin, and in 1927, after gaining the top marks in his B.A. final examination, he left on an exchange to teach English at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. During his two-year stay he met and befriended the Irish novelist James Joyce. He also published his first creative writing, in 1929, in the literary review transition: a short story, called “Assumption/7 and an essay on Joyce’s Work in Progress (eventually to become Finnegan’s Wake), entitled “Dante … Bruno. Vico … Joyce.” His links with the literary circles in Paris earned him commissions to translate texts for several reviews and small magazines. In 1930 he won a poetry competition for his poem Whoroscope, and completed a critical work on the French writer Proust.

Beckett returned to Dublin in 1930, when he was elected to the newly created post of Lecturer in French and assistant to the Professor of Romance Languages at Trinity College. However, he could not tolerate life as an academic, and resigned after only four terms. Beckett’s family, in particular his mother, were horrified at this act of irresponsibility, but Beckett now determined to make his way as a writer. He traveled for a time in Europe, where he began his first, never-to-be-finished novel, A Dream of Fair to Middling Women, then continued to write poems, stories, and translations while living with his parents in Dublin. His father died unexpectedly in the summer of 1933, and this event, combined with his general feelings of aimlessness, threw Beckett into a deep depression. He began to suffer anxiety attacks and from various physical ailments so, at the advice of his doctor, he moved to London to undergo psychoanalysis. He lived there from 1933 to 1935, during which time he attended the lectures of C. G. Jung, saw the publication of his collection of short stories, More Pricks Than Kicks (1934), and gathered material for his next novel, Murphy (1938).

Beckett moved to Paris in 1936, and except for a period during the war, made a home there for the rest of his life. In 1937 he began an affair with the woman who became his lifelong partner, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil. Although he was not always faithful to her, they had a close relationship, and he married her in 1961. Suzanne was instrumental in furthering Beckett’s writing career because, unlike the author, she was willing to hawk his manuscripts around to different publishers. She also took on teaching and sewing work when funds ran low, which, considering the small allowance given to Beckett by his family, was fairly often.

World War II broke out in 1939,...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1383000012