Autobiography of Samuel Beckett

Autobiography of Samuel Beckett

Life and works of Beckett’s, Works, School, Family

Samuel Beckett was born 13 April 1906, which was Good Friday that year. He was born at Foxrock, near Dublin, second son of William Frank Beckett and Mary Beckett.William Beckett was a prosperous businessman in Dublin, well liked and respected. They had a hood parental relationship with Samuel and he had a happy childhood.

His parents wished to be educated well, and were proud of his sporting as well as academic prowess. Samuel Beckett was educated at Earlsfort House Preparatory school in Dublin, and then at the Protestant boarding school Portora Royal, one of the best and most, expensive schools in Ireland. He then he went trinity College to read French and Italian.

In school as well as college, Beckett was a brilliant student as well as an outstanding sportsman. At college, he belonged to the chess, golf and cricket, clubs. He actually played a first class cricket match. He participated in dramatics and was an avid theater goer.

He completed his Bachelor of Arts at the Trinity College in 1927, topping his batch with a First Class and Winning the gold medal. He was then selected to represent Trinity College in an exchange programme with Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, which he joined in 1928; for the two terms in between, he taught at Campbell College, Belfast. The two years spent at Paris are notable for his meeting fellow-Irishman, James Joyce, and becoming part of his intimate circle; Joyce became a major influence on his early literary style.

He also won a prize in a competition for poems written in the subject of time for Whorescope. In 1930, Beckett returned to Ireland to join Trinity College as an Assistant Lecturer in French. He received his Master of Arts Degree but did not enjoy being an academic even though he published his acclaimed book on Marcel Proust during this period, in 1931.

He was in Germany, on his Christmas vacation in 1932, when he telegraphed his resignation. He was to say later that ‘I could not bear the absurdity of teaching others what I did not know myself. 

Thus began next phase of Beckett’s life – in this decisive cutting away from his moorings. However, he was always to retain an Irish passport; which was not without further irony for Beckett, a Protestant, never felt at home in the Protestant North. He felt at home in the protestant north. He felt he belonged to the Catholic Republic, but decried its repressive policies toward arts.

He retained the passport, but lived in Europe. From 1932-1937, Beckett wandered around Europe, mostly Germany, gaining expertise European languages and literatures. He also educated himself in the visual arts and was to put this expertise to good effect in later years, both in the theatre and in art criticism.

In 1937, he made Paris his permanent home. More Pricks That Kicks, Beckett’s collection of short stories, was published in 1934 and promptly banned in Ireland because of its ‘blasphemous’ reference to the Bible- the title is form a statement attributed to Jesus. ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it’s hard for thee to kick against the prick’s (Acts of the Apostles 9:5).

A collection of poems was published next – Echo and Other Precipitates (1935). His first novel, Murphy, was published in 1938.

During World II

He was on vacation in Dublin in 1939 when World War II broke out, but he hot back to France because he preferred ‘France in war to Ireland in peace’. The Irish Republic had declared itself neutral but Beckett committed himself to fighting Nazism and joined the French Resistance.

Discovered by the Germans in 1942, Beckett fled to unoccupied France, where he wrote Watt, which was published in 1953, while working on a farm. He was decorated for his valour by General de Gaulle with the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille de la Resistance. Beckett played down this phase of his life, dismissing it as ‘Boy Scout stuff’.

He resumed his life in Paris at the end of the war and this period of five years, 1945-1950, saw a burst of inspired creative writing from him. This was the time that he wrote his famous trilogy – the three novels, Molly, Malone Dies and the Unnameable- and his most famous play, En attendant wrote Eleutheria (a play he repudiated later and which remains unperformed) and some short stories and prose during this period. It is interesting that all these works were written in French.

Beckett was to say later that French imposed a discipline- forcing him into utmost clarity and economy of expression, because it was easier to write without style in French – ‘Peace qu’en francais c’est plus facile d’ecrire sans style’. {Esslin 1968:38}.

This was truly a rich creative period in Beckett’s life According to John Fletcher, almost nothing the Beckett wrote late ‘was quite to equal the works for the late 1940s in profundity, originality and imaginative power. {Fletcher 2003:8} .As Fletcher goes on to explain, these works of the late 1940s ask the big questions of life, questions about our identity and reasons for our existence.

They are original in terms of their style, which helps to knit together comedy and tragedy, the banal and the philosophical, the grotesque and the sublime. Their imaginative power needs no argument, for the figures from these works have attained the status of universal myths. None more so than Waiting for Godot.     

One should remember that Beckett was a consummate novelist as well, though he is better known as a dramatist. His dalliance with theatre began fairly early, in the 1930s- he collaborated on a play, Le Kid {a parody of Corneille’s Le Cid, a seventeenth-century play} with Georges Pelorson, and began to write a four-act play Human Wishes, on Samuel Johnson and his benefactress Mrs. Thale.

Then after the war, he wrote Eleutheria and En attendant Godot. It was in waiting for Godot that he found his voice and it set him up as a successful dramatist. The plays that he wrote in the decade or so following the success of.

  • Waiting For Godot
  • The radio play all that fall in  1957
  • Endgame  in 1957
  • Radio without words I in  1957
  • Krapp’s Last Tape in  1958
  • Play Embers in  1959
  • Act Without Words II in 1960
  • Happy Days in  1961
  • Play in 1963
  • Come and Go in 1966

Added to his reputation and led to his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

His plays have few characters, almost no setting, and no action of the kind that audiences would recognize. Even language disappears from some of his plays. Two of the plays named above are, as they proclaim, without words, i.e. they are mimes.

A later play Breath (1970), which is all of a minute in length, contains only the sounds of breathing and cries. And if you think that Waiting For Godot has minimal action, then you should see the rest of the plays.

In Endgame, two characters are confined to dustbins, and one to an armchair in castors; in Happy days, Winnie is up to her waist in a mound in Act I, and up to her armpits in Act II; and Not I (1972) depicts only the mouth of a woman, the rest of her body being shadow.

His next plays continued with the same extreme streak – That Time (1976) does have an old woman shuffling to and fro. He also wrote similarly extreme plays for television in the mid- 1970s – Ghost Trio and …. But the clouds Beckett continued to write plays till almost the last years of his life, his last play being What Where (1984). He died in 1989