"We are all born mad. Some remain so"
--fr. Waiting for Godot
Samuel Barclay Beckett was born at Cooldrinach house in Foxrock, County Dublin, Ireland on 13 April 1906. He was the second of two sons of a midle-class Protestant family, his father managed a surveying firm, and grew up away from the rebellion enviroment waged nearby. Though quite energetic, he "enjoyed" even as a small boy the quiet of solitude. As once himself claimed he suffered an eventless childhood
House in which Beckett was born and
lived as a child, Cooldrinagh
--Photo by MARKUS FRIEDL
On Monday, April 24 th, 1916 the "Easter Uprising" broke out in Dublin, but the conflicts took place for the most part within the city proper, and so Beckett remained somewhat removed from the unrest. Beckett remembers: "At one point my father took me to a hill near our home at night to watch the fires in the city."
Samuel studied at Earlsfort House in Dublin , and then at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen (where Oscar Wilde also attended). It was there that he first began to learn French, one of the two languages in which he would write. A well-rounded athlete, Beckett excelled in cricket, tennis, and boxing in his school days. He was in his second year at Portora when Ireland was partitioned.
In 1923 at age 17, Samuel entered Trinity College, in Dublin, choosing French and Italian as his subjects. Beckett enjoyed the vibrant theater scene of post- independence Dublin . Moreover he had the opportunity to watch American films and discover the silent comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin that would crucially influence his interest in the vaudevillian tramp.
In 1926 Beckett began to suffer from insomnia, and soon after also began to be afflicted with heart palpitations that often led to night sweats and panic attacks. Although he eventually sought medical assistance for the problem it persisted for many years following.
During his final session at Trinity, Beckett met Alfred Peron, a student who had once shared a study with Jean-Paul Sartre at the Ecole Normale Superieure, in Paris. The two quicly became friends, Peron helped Beckett extensively with both his spoken and written French. It was during this period that Beckett firsts comes to grips with the issues of pain and suffering that would influence his work enormously throughout his life : his roommates recall an evening in which Beckett returned to the apartment "with an aluminium strip from one of the printing machines which used to grace the platforms of railway stations, on which he had inscribed the words 'PAIN PAIN PAIN' and which he affixed to the wall"
After graduation in 1927, Beckett traveled to Paris in 1928, taking a job lecturing on English at the Ecole Normale Superieure. He began to drink during his first year in Paris (having avoided alcohol for most of his previous life); within two years he was drinking heavily, but only after five o´clock in the evening, a custom that will remain with him all his life. During 1928 he met the fellow Dubliner who become a seminal influence and close friend, James Joyce. In addition to acting as one of Joyce´s favored assistants in the construction of the 'Work in Progress' ( later to be tittled 'Finnegans Wake'), Beckett began writing himself, inspired by the vibrant Parisian literary circle.
In 1930, he published his first poem ,Whoroscope', winning an award of ten pounds in a poetry competition. Shortly afterward, his study, 'Proust', was published to critical acclaim for the Dolphin Book series. The work was a study of the recently deceased author whom Beckett admired so much; the work at once illuminated its subject but also helped the fledling and unsure artist shape his own aesthetic. When he returned to Dublin later that year to lecture at Trinity, Beckett was writting his first stories which would later comprise 'More Pricks Than KicKs' (1934).
Beckett was restless in his teaching posts, and his reluctance to settle down in a respectable career worried his family, especially his mother from whom he became estranged for several years. At that time Samuel began to wrestle with the symptoms of deep depression, as well as feeling frustration with the profession of teaching, he resigned his position at Trinity in December of 1931.
Returning to Paris in 1932, he wrote his first novel, 'Dream of Fair to Middling Women'. While reminiscent in its digressive tendencies of Fielding and Sterne, 'Dream' was also highly autobiographical, a powerful indication that Beckett was emerging from Joyce´s shadow and developing his own voice. Out of money, he went back to Dublin and then moved temporalily to London where he worked on much of his next novel, 'Murphy'. Still without a steady source of income ( his works were not selling, and 'Murphy', which had been turned down by dozens of publishers, would not appear until 1938), Samuel moved constantly for the next few years before settling permanently in Paris in 1937. Plagued by health problems, including a cyst on his neck, he spends many weeks bed-ridden following operations.
Image Beckett wanted for'Murphy' dustjacket
Beckett´s father died of a heart attack on 26 June,1933. His last words to his son were "Fight fight fight" and "What a mourning". Beckett´s own health problems,as well as his depression , grew more serious with the passing weeks . A phisicyan friend recommended that he sought psycoanalysis, and, as the practice of psychoanalysis was not legal in Dublin at the time, Beckett traveled to London in December of 1933, and began undergoing sessions with Dr Wilfred Bion that continued over the span of two years.
Beckett traveled to Germany in 1936, met and associated with several painters in Hamburg. While there, Beckett began to solidify his negative peceptionsof the Nazi party, witnessing numerous examples of the Nazi persecution of Jewish citizens during his stay.
In 1937, Beckett settled permanently in Paris. In December of that year, on Twelfth Night, in fact, while walking home, Beckett was nearly killed when he was stabbed by a "pimp". In hospital, Joyce looked after his young friend, paying his expenses and bringing around numerous visitors. 'Murphy' was published while Beckett was still in the hospital. Soon after released froom the doctros immediate care, Beckett engaged in a brief affair with the American heiress, Peggy Guggenheim, but broke it off when he realized that does not reciprocate the depth of her affections. Recuperating, Beckett also receives attention from a French acquaintance, Suzanne Deschevaux- Dusmenil who would soon become his life companion (and wife, though not until 1961)
When Paris is invaded in 1940, Beckett and Suzanne joined the Resistance, recruited by Beckett´s old friend, Alfred Peron. In September 1941, Beckett and Suzanne Deschevaux joined the Gloria SMH cell of network. The Majority of their work for the Resistance cell consisted of passing on to Allied Forces in London information sent in from all over France regarding German military activities and positions.
Pictures above were taken from:
Web-site of GONZALO FERNANDEZ ETREROS
The Gloria SMH cell was infiltrated by a German agent in 1942, and more than 50 of its members are arrested by the Nazis. Beckett and Suzanne were forced to flee Paris, leaving their appartment only hours before the Gestapo arrived. They took refuge in the south of France, in Rousillon d' Apt, where Beckett worked on a farm in exchange for room and board. There he continuedworking on a novel that he had begun in Paris 'Watt'
Picture taken from:
Web-site of GONZALO FERNANDEZ ETREROS
Alfred Peron was arrested in Paris and deported to a concentration camp: he died on May 1, 1945, shortly after being freed by the Swiss Red Cross.
House where Beckett and Suzanne Deschevaux stayed in Rousillon during the war
--Photo by WILLIAM BUCKNER
After the Germans were defeated and the couple returned to Paris in 1945, Beckett travelled to Ireland to visit his mother. He claimed to have had while siting in her room an artistic revelation: "I became aware of my own folly. only then did I begin to write the things I feel." And only did Beckett began to write primarily in French, finding greater lingúistics possibilities in a language that he famously said had no style. In his second language he enjoyed a period (1947-1950) that is certainly his most prolific and that many consider his finest. His first French novel , 'Mercier et Camier' (1946) --which, with its wandering duo, minimalist style, and insistence on repetition, predicts the concerns and form of 'Waiting for Godot'--was not published until years later. In this time he also wrote the "Nouvelles" 'La fin', 'L' expulse', 'Le calmant', and 'Premier amour' and his famous novel trilogy 'Moloy', 'Malone dies' and ' The Unnamable'. Also, in 1947, he wrote his first play, 'Eleutheria', which he would not allow to be published during his lifetime and which, after his death, became a cause of great controversy when Beckett´s American publisher, Barney Rosset, released an English translation against the wishes of the Beckett estate. It is in this year also when he wrote the bulk of 'Molloy' while stayed at a villa near the Italian border in 1947.
In 1948 began translating for the periodical 'transition', and became good friends with the magazine´s new owner, George Duthuit. Through Duthuit, Beckett was introduced to, among others, Andre Breton, as well as French artists Andre Masson, Pierre Tal Coat, and Alberto Giacometti.
Visually inspired, at least in part, by a Caspar David Friedrich painting, Samuel wrote 'Waiting for Godot'. Its production in Paris in January 1953, by the director and actor Roger Blin (with whom Beckett would developed a lifelong friendship), brought the artist not only his first real public success both in and outside of France, but also enormous controversy among critics and audiences, at times even resulting in blows between supporters of the play and disparagers of it within the audience. With the success of the play, Beckett was forced to begin what will become a lifelong struggle to protect his privacy, declining even favorable interviews for both print and radio, and refusing to indulge whatsoever in anything which he perceived also as self-promotion
Having suffered from Parkinson's disease, Beckett´s mother died 25 August, 1950.
An extract from 'Watt' was published in 1952 in 'Merlin', a magazine chiefly run at that time by, among others, Alexander Trocchi. In 1953, Merlin Press published 'Watt' in its entirety, along with Henry Miller's 'Plexus', the first two such books emerged from the press in their first printing.
In May of 1954, Beckett's brother, Frank, was diagnosed with a terminal lung cancer. He died 13 September, 1954. Despite, or perhaps because of, profound grief at the loss of his brother, Beckett wrote an initial version of 'Fin de partie' later that year.
On October 3,1954, Beckett received a letter from Luttringhausen prison in Germany: the letter was signed only "un Prisonnier". The letter´s contents are described by James Knowlson in 'Damned to Fame: The life of Samuel Beckett':
"You will be surprised", wrote the prisonner,"to be receiving a letter about your play 'Waiting for Godot,' from a prison where so many thieves, forgers, toughs, homos, crazy men and killers spend this bitch of a life waiting....and waiting.......and waiting. Waiting for what? Godot? Perhaps."
The prisoner related how he had heard from a French friend about the pay that was taking Paris by storm and had the first editionsent to him in prison; he had read it over again and again, then had translated it himself into German.... he obtaine permission to put the play on in the prison, had cast it himself, rehearsed it and acted in it. the first night had been on November 29, 1953.
The effect on the prisoners was electric; the play was a triumph. "Your Godot was our Godot," the prisoner wrote to Beckett. He explained that every inmate saw himself and his own predicament reflected in the characters who were waiting for something to come along to give their lives meaning. He then offered his own interpretation of the play seeing in it a lesson of fraternity even in the worst of conditions.
Advertisement inspired by Nagg and Nell in 'Endgame'
In the 1950's and 1960's, Beckett's playwriting continued with a series of masterpieces, including 'Endgame', ''Happy days',and Krapp's Last Tape', in 1956 wrote 'Act Without words'. 'Krapp' was written in early 1958, inspired partly by memories of Ethna MacCarthy, whom Beckett had loved deeply (and unrequitedly), and who had been diagnosed with terminal throat cancer in December of 1957. Samuel Beckett created remarkably innovative prose fiction, including the epic 'How It Is' (1961) and the haunting 'The Lost Ones'(1970)
Julian Curry performing 'Krapp's Last Tape' in 1966
Samuel involved himself in various productions of his plays across Europe and in the United States, wrote his first radio plays. At the invitation of the BBC, he wrote 'All that Fall' for radio performance as well. Beckett promptly withdrew performances of 'All That Fall' and 'Three Mimes' -- which were to be performed by Deryk Mendel--from the Dublin International Theatre Festival when he learnt that both an adaptation of Joyce' s 'Ulyses' and a play by Sean O'Casey had been censored from the festival.
"As long as such conditions prevail in Ireland I do not wish my work to be performed there, either in festivlas or outside them. If jo protest is heard they will prevail for ever. This is the strongest I can make."
Beckett also encountered much difficulty in attempting to stage both 'Endgame' and 'Krapp's Last Tape' in England. resulting in many months of argument with English officials before the performances are allowed to run
Samuel completed 'Embers'in 1959 having written an initial version of it just before 'Krapp's Last Tape': it was broadcast on BBC radio on June 24, and received the Prix Italia award later that year. Also began to work on ' Comment c'est' in early 1959.
Suzanne Deschaveux-Dusmesnil and Samuel Beckett got married on March 25, 1961, in England. The civil ceremony was kept a secret. 'Happy Days' was completed that year.Also 'Words and Music' and 'Cascando' were written in 1961, to be broadcasted on BBC radio.
Elisa Galvez plays 'Winnie' in an "open air" production of 'Happy Days'in Madrid. Sept 1996
--Photo by RAQUEL PASTOR
In 1964 traveled to New York, this was his only visit to the United States, to participate in the production of 'Film' starring Buster Keaton. 'Film' debuted at the New York Film Festival in 1965. 'Imagination morte imaginez' and 'Come and Go' were completed almost simultaneously in 1965, as Beckett was recuperating from a painful surgery to remove a tumor in his jaw. 'Eh Joe' was also written in 1965, with Jack MacGowran in mind for the character, 'Joe'. 'Eh Joe' was Beckett's first work to be composed with the intention of being performed on TV.
In 1966 he was diagnosed with double cataracts. 'Bing' and 'Assez' were completed later that year. Became extremelly ill in April 1968, and is subsequently diagnosed with asevere abcess on his lung. Although he was somewhat better by September, he was not wholly cured, an d he and Suzanne leave for a vacation in the Portuguese islands in December.
Samuel Beckett received in 1969 the Nobel Prize for Literature (the third Irishman of hte century to be so honored). Beckett was in Tunisia when he received a telegram from his associated and friend, Jerome Lindon:
"Dear Sam and Suzanne. In spite of everything, they have given you the Nobel Prize-I advise you to go into hiding. With affection."
Beckett was sincerely appalled, knowing that the award will bring only further assaults on his privacy, and took Lindon's advice, sequestering himself as much as possible from the efforts of the press. Beckett sent Lindon in his stead to receive the prize in Stockholm.
Beckett's cataracts, that had been plaguing him for years, were operated on in 1970, and again in early 1971, His vision was improved dramatically.
'Not I', 'Still', 'That Time', 'Fottfalls' and 'Ghost Trio' were all written between 1972 and 1976. Throughout the 1970's and beyond, Beckett refused to allow any of his works to be performed before segregated audiences in South Africa. He also befriended and supported many victims of oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe, and was perceived to have hold a great sympathy for prisoners in general. Throughout his adult life, Beckett continually manifested a grat deal of empathy for those he saw as suffering, for whatever reasons.
The 1970's were a less prolific period, though he managed some new projects, including TV plays for the BBC, and continued to interest himself in productions of his theatrical works. In 1977 he began the autobiographical 'Company' and in the early 1980's crafted more prose pieces (including 'Ill Seen', 'Ill Said' and 'Worstward Ho') as well as more plays ( including 'Rockaby' and 'Ohio Impromptu'). His last major work, the prose fiction 'Stirrings Still' was written in 1986.
In the same year, Beckett began to suffer from onsetting emphysema. After his first hospitalization, he wrote in bed his final work, the poem 'What is the Word'. Moved into a nursing home, Le Tiers Temps, his deteriorating health prevented him from writing, and his efforts were given instead to translation of his works.
Suzanne died on 17 July 1989, and Beckett followed her on 22 December. he is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris.
Grave of Samuel and Suzanne Beckettin Montparnase
"They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it´s night once more"
--fr Waiting for Godot