Samuel Beckett: Overview

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Author: Ruby Cohn
Editor: D. L. Kirkpatrick
Date: 1991
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,298 words

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With consummate skill, Samuel Beckett molded words into fiction and drama, while paradoxically protesting his own failure. Better appreciated as a playwright, Beckett took deepest pains with his fiction—much of it originally written in French but self-translated into his native English. Most of his drama, in contrast, was self-translated into French from English. ``English is a good theatre language,'' he said, ``because of its concreteness, its close relationship between thing and vocable.'' Two languages and two genres have been indelibly marked by Beckett's vision—a reaching toward human essence or elemental being.

Beckett broke into print in 1929 with almost simultaneous publication of a piece on Finnegans Wake (written at Joyce's request), a pastiche dialogue on contraception in Ireland, and a cryptic short story, ``Assumption.'' Supercilious mannerism mars the three pieces, and yet they predict Beckett's generic variety. From 1929 to 1989, when he died, scarcely a year passed without his contribution to some literary or theatre genre: more than half a century of creative activity, however his characters may yearn for indolence.

In the early 1930's, in English, Beckett wavered between obscure verse and satiric short fiction, publishing a volume of each. At about the time he settled in Paris, he published his first English novel, Murphy—traditional in its relative coherence and comic omniscience. The book was perceptively reviewed by Dylan Thomas: ``[Murphy] is serious because it is, mainly, the study of a complex and oddly tragic character who cannot reconcile the unreality of the seen world with the reality of the unseen, and who, through scorn and neglect of `normal' society, drifts into the society of the certified abnormal in his search for `a little world.''' The sentence also describes Beckett's next very untraditional novel, Watt, and it is relevant too to Beckett's French fiction, where ``the seen world'' recedes toward a vanishing point.

Watt predicts the anarchic immediacy of most of the French fiction. The protagonist Watt carries the Beckettian...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420000648