Happy Days: Beckett's Rescript of Lady Chatterley's Lover

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Editor: Linda Pavlovski
Date: 2004
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,449 words

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[(essay date winter 1998) In the following essay, Thomas studies Happy Days for evidence of a subtext influenced by D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover.]

The importance of Beckett's use of literary references in Happy Days is well established.1 The juxtaposition of truncated yet recognizable fragments of literature provides a frame of reference for the erudite reader or spectator to appreciate fully--at least subconsciously--the irony of the characters' speech and situation. In his manuscript study of the play, Stanley Gontarski lists fourteen allusions identified by Beckett and the stages at which they were deliberately added.2 However, Beckett did not acknowledge a significant literary source that resonates throughout Happy Days: D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Subtle echoes of Lawrence's novel provide a hitherto unexplored perspective from which to interpret Happy Days. Unlike the texts to which Winnie directly refers, this one does not deal with confronting death or with despair at the brevity of life. Instead, the Lawrentian subtext establishes Winnie's precarious sexuality and her womanly needs, which Beckett then undercuts, the better to establish the bitter irony of her situation.

Lady Chatterley's Lover relates the story of a woman trapped in a marriage with an impotent, insensitive man. Her life is sterile and joyless until she finds "phallic tenderness" and sexual fulfillment with an outsider.3 One can forget that over one-third of the novel deals with Connie Chatterley's hollow, barren relationship with her partially paralyzed husband and her life of hopeless inertia, in which "[t]he days seemed to grind by with curious painfulness, yet nothing happened" (LCL 76). Throughout the first nine chapters of the book, Connie is slowly dying: she is "spending [her] life without renewing it" (LCL 78). Feeling "completely stranded" (LCL 110), she is vapidly whiling away her life.

Until she finds life after the deadness of marriage and meaningless copulation, Connie Chatterley resembles Winnie. Winnie, in turn, continues the stream of characters who embody Beckett's "concern with the physical details of reproduction, its success or lack of success, [with] the impotence, sterility, and decay of the sexual organs, [and] repulsive copulation."4 Allusions to Connie, who liberates herself through sexual fulfillment, establish Winnie's erotic possibilities, made all the more poignant and frustrating by her inability to satisfy them.

But, more than a dramatist's ploy to add breadth and depth to the characters in his minimalist world, these subtle allusions serve as an outright rejection of Lawrence's credo. Both Winnie and Connie embody their creators' philosophy on women's sexuality and freedom, women's relationships with men, men's impotence in society, and the whole body/mind dichotomy. Similarities in mood, characterization, and imagery reveal the two authors' common preoccupations and profound spiritual ties; yet, unlike Connie, Beckett's fictive character is trapped inescapably, rendering her incapable of being rescued from her desperate condition. Beckett opposes Lawrence's strong convictions concerning the significance of physical passion and rejects the philosophy that phallic powers will save us from the alienation of modern life. With Beckett's bleaker vision, Happy Days...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420056343