Samuel Beckett (April 13, 1906 - December 22, 1989)
Born: 13th April, 1906
Died: 22nd December, 1989
Nationality: Irish
Profession/Occupation: Playwright
Region: Ireland, Paris, France
Notable works: "Waiting for Godot", "The Unnamable", "Molloy", "Watt", "Endgame", "Malone Dies", "Murphy", "Krapp's Last Tape", "Happy Days", "More Pricks than Kicks"

Samuel Beckett Facts

Biography

Samuel Beckett, in full Samuel Barclay Beckett, (born April 13?, 1906, Foxrock, County Dublin, Ireland--died December 22, 1989, Paris, France), author, critic, and playwright, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. He wrote in both French and English and is perhaps best known for his plays, especially En attendant Godot (1952; Waiting for Godot).

Life

Samuel Beckett was born in a suburb of Dublin. Like his fellow Irish writers George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats, he came from a Protestant, Anglo-Irish background. At the age of 14 he went to the Portora Royal School, in what became Northern Ireland, a school that catered to the Anglo-Irish middle classes.

From 1923 to 1927, he studied Romance languages at Trinity College, Dublin, where he received his bachelor's degree. After a brief spell of teaching in Belfast, he became a reader in English at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris in 1928. There he met the self-exiled Irish writer James Joyce, the author of the controversial and seminally modern novel Ulysses, and joined his circle. Contrary to often-repeated reports, however, he never served as Joyce's secretary. He returned to Ireland in 1930 to take up a post as lecturer in French at Trinity College, but after only four terms he resigned, in December 1931, and embarked upon a period of restless travel in London, France, Germany, and Italy. In 1937 Beckett decided to settle in Paris. (This period of Beckett's life is vividly depicted in letters he wrote between 1929 and 1940, a wide-ranging selection of which were first published in 2009.)

As a citizen of a country that was neutral in World War II, he was able to remain there even after the occupation of Paris by the Germans, but he joined an underground resistance group in 1941. When, in 1942, he received news that members of his group had been arrested by the Gestapo, he immediately went into hiding and eventually moved to the unoccupied zone of France. Until the liberation of the country, he supported himself as an agricultural labourer.

In 1945 he returned to Ireland but volunteered for the Irish Red Cross and went back to France as an interpreter in a military hospital in Saint-Lo, Normandy. In the winter of 1945, he finally returned to Paris and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his resistance work.

Production of the major works

There followed a period of intense creativity, the most concentratedly fruitful period of Beckett's life. His relatively few prewar publications included two essays on Joyce and the French novelist Marcel Proust. The volume More Pricks Than Kicks (1934) contained 10 stories describing episodes in the life of a Dublin intellectual, Belacqua Shuah, and the novel Murphy (1938) concerns an Irishman in London who escapes from a girl he is about to marry to a life of contemplation as a male nurse in a mental institution. His two slim volumes of poetry were Whoroscope (1930), a poem on the French philosopher Rene Descartes, and the collection Echo's Bones (1935). A number of short stories and poems were scattered in various periodicals. He wrote the novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women in the mid-1930s, but it remained incomplete and was not published until 1992.

During his years in hiding in unoccupied France, Beckett also completed another novel, Watt, which was not published until 1953. After his return to Paris, between 1946 and 1949, Beckett produced a number of stories, the major prose narratives Molloy (1951), Malone meurt (1951; Malone Dies), and L'Innommable (1953; The Unnamable), and two plays, the unpublished three-act Eleutheria and Waiting for Godot.

It was not until 1951, however, that these works saw the light of day. After many refusals, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil (later Mme Beckett), Beckett's lifelong companion, finally succeeded in finding a publisher for Molloy. When this book not only proved a modest commercial success but also was received with enthusiasm by the French critics, the same publisher brought out the two other novels and Waiting for Godot. It was with the amazing success of Waiting for Godot at the small Theatre de Babylone in Paris, in January 1953, that Beckett's rise to world fame began. Beckett continued writing, but more slowly than in the immediate postwar years. Plays for the stage and radio and a number of prose works occupied much of his attention. (This period of Beckett's life is treated in a second volume of letters, published in 2011, covering the years 1941-56.)

Beckett continued to live in Paris, but most of his writing was done in a small house secluded in the Marne valley, a short drive from Paris. His total dedication to his art extended to his complete avoidance of all personal publicity, of appearances on radio or television, and of all journalistic interviews. When, in 1969, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, he accepted the award but declined the trip to Stockholm to avoid the public speech at the ceremonies. A substantial selection of archival and epistolary material was published as Dear Mr. Beckett: Letters from the Publisher, the Samuel Beckett File (2016), offering readers insight into his process.

Continuity of his philosophical explorations

Beckett's writing reveals his own immense learning. It is full of subtle allusions to a multitude of literary sources as well as to a number of philosophical and theological writers. The dominating influences on Beckett's thought were undoubtedly the Italian poet Dante, the French philosopher Rene Descartes, the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Arnold Geulincx--a pupil of Descartes who dealt with the question of how the physical and the spiritual sides of man interact--and, finally, his fellow Irishman and revered friend, James Joyce. But it is by no means essential for the understanding of Beckett's work that one be aware of all the literary, philosophical, and theological allusions.

The widespread idea, fostered by the popular press, that Beckett's work is concerned primarily with the sordid side of human existence, with tramps and with cripples who inhabit trash cans, is a fundamental misconception. He dealt with human beings in such extreme situations not because he was interested in the sordid and diseased aspects of life but because he concentrated on the essential aspects of human experience. The subject matter of so much of the world's literature--the social relations between individuals, their manners and possessions, their struggles for rank and position, or the conquest of sexual objects--appeared to Beckett as mere external trappings of existence, the accidental and superficial aspects that mask the basic problems and the basic anguish of the human condition. The basic questions for Beckett seemed to be these: How can we come to terms with the fact that, without ever having asked for it, we have been thrown into the world, into being? And who are we; what is the true nature of our self? What does a human being mean when he says "I"?

What appears to the superficial view as a concentration on the sordid thus emerges as an attempt to grapple with the most essential aspects of the human condition. The two heroes of Waiting for Godot, for instance, are frequently referred to by critics as tramps, yet they were never described as such by Beckett. They are merely two human beings in the most basic human situation of being in the world and not knowing what they are there for. Since man is a rational being and cannot imagine that his being thrown into any situation should or could be entirely pointless, the two vaguely assume that their presence in the world, represented by an empty stage with a solitary tree, must be due to the fact that they are waiting for someone. But they have no positive evidence that this person, whom they call Godot, ever made such an appointment--or, indeed, that he actually exists. Their patient and passive waiting is contrasted by Beckett with the mindless and equally purposeless journeyings that fill the existence of a second pair of characters. In most dramatic literature the characters pursue well-defined objectives, seeking power, wealth, marriage with a desirable partner, or something of the sort. Yet, once they have attained these objectives, are they or the audience any nearer answering the basic questions that Beckett poses? Does the hero, having won his lady, really live with her happily ever after? That is apparently why Beckett chose to discard what he regarded as the inessential questions and began where other writing left off.

This stripping of reality to its naked bones is the reason that Beckett's development as a writer was toward an ever greater concentration, sparseness, and brevity. His two earliest works of narrative fiction, More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy, abound in descriptive detail. In Watt, the last of Beckett's novels written in English, the milieu is still recognizably Irish, but most of the action takes place in a highly abstract, unreal world. Watt, the hero, takes service with a mysterious employer, Mr. Knott, works for a time for this master without ever meeting him face to face, and then is dismissed. The allegory of man's life in the midst of mystery is plain.

Most of Beckett's plays also take place on a similar level of abstraction. Fin de partie (one-act, 1957; Endgame) describes the dissolution of the relation between a master, Hamm, and his servant, Clov. They inhabit a circular structure with two high windows--perhaps the image of the inside of a human skull. The action might be seen as a symbol of the dissolution of a human personality in the hour of death, the breaking of the bond between the spiritual and the physical sides of man. In Krapp's Last Tape (one-act, first performed 1958), an old man listens to the confessions he recorded in earlier and happier years. This becomes an image of the mystery of the self, for to the old Krapp the voice of the younger Krapp is that of a total stranger. In what sense, then, can the two Krapps be regarded as the same human being? In Happy Days (1961), a woman, literally sinking continually deeper into the ground, nonetheless continues to prattle about the trivialities of life. In other words, perhaps, as one gets nearer and nearer death, one still pretends that life will go on normally forever.

In his trilogy of narrative prose works--they are not, strictly speaking, novels as usually understood--Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, as well as in the collection Stories and Texts for Nothing (1967), Beckett raised the problem of the identity of the human self from, as it were, the inside. This basic problem, simply stated, is that when I say "I am writing," I am talking about myself, one part of me describing what another part of me is doing. I am both the observer and the object I observe. Which of the two is the real "I"? In his prose narratives, Beckett tried to pursue this elusive essence of the self, which, to him, manifested itself as a constant stream of thought and of observations about the self. One's entire existence, one's consciousness of oneself as being in the world, can be seen as a stream of thought. Cogito ergo sum is the starting point of Beckett's favourite philosopher, Descartes: "I think; therefore, I am." To catch the essence of being, therefore, Beckett tried to capture the essence of the stream of consciousness that is one's being. And what he found was a constantly receding chorus of observers, or storytellers, who, immediately on being observed, became, in turn, objects of observation by a new observer. Molloy and Moran, for example, the pursued and the pursuer in the first part of the trilogy, are just such a pair of observer and observed. Malone, in the second part, spends his time while dying in making up stories about people who clearly are aspects of himself. The third part reaches down to bedrock. The voice is that of someone who is unnamable, and it is not clear whether it is a voice that comes from beyond the grave or from a limbo before birth. As we cannot conceive of our consciousness not being there--"I cannot be conscious that I have ceased to exist"--therefore consciousness is at either side open-ended to infinity. This is the subject also of the play Play (first performed 1963), which shows the dying moments of consciousness of three characters, who have been linked in a trivial amorous triangle in life, lingering on into eternity.

The humour and mastery

In spite of Beckett's courageous tackling of the ultimate mystery and despair of human existence, he was essentially a comic writer. In a French farce, laughter will arise from seeing the frantic and usually unsuccessful pursuit of trivial sexual gratifications. In Beckett's work, as well, a recognition of the triviality and ultimate pointlessness of most human strivings, by freeing the viewer from his concern with senseless and futile objectives, should also have a liberating effect. The laughter will arise from a view of pompous and self-important preoccupation with illusory ambitions and futile desires. Far from being gloomy and depressing, the ultimate effect of seeing or reading Beckett is one of cathartic release, an objective as old as theatre itself.

Technically, Beckett was a master craftsman, and his sense of form is impeccable. Molloy and Waiting for Godot, for example, are constructed symmetrically, in two parts that are mirror images of one another. In his work for the mass media, Beckett also showed himself able to grasp intuitively and brilliantly the essential character of their techniques. His radio plays, such as All That Fall (1957), are models in the combined use of sound, music, and speech. The short television play Eh Joe! (1967) exploits the television camera's ability to move in on a face and the particular character of small-screen drama. Finally, his film script Film (1967) creates an unforgettable sequence of images of the observed self trying to escape the eye of its own observer.

Beckett's later works tended toward extreme concentration and brevity. Come and Go (1967), a playlet, or "dramaticule," as he called it, contains only 121 words that are spoken by the three characters. The prose fragment "Lessness" consists of but 60 sentences, each of which occurs twice. His series Acts Without Words are exactly what the title denotes, and one of his last plays, Rockaby, lasts for 15 minutes. Such brevity is merely an expression of Beckett's determination to pare his writing to essentials, to waste no words on trivia.

Top 33 Samuel Beckett quotes

You're on earth. There's no cure for that.
Cure
Earth
You
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
Again
Better
Ever
Fail
Failed
Matter
Tried
Try
Dublin university contains the cream of Ireland: Rich and thick.
Contains
Cream
Dublin
Ireland
Rich
Thick
University
I can't go on. I'll go on.
Go
All I know is what the words know, and dead things, and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning and a middle and an end, as in the well-built phrase and the long sonata of the dead.
Beginning
Dead
End
Handsome
Know
Little
Long
Makes
Middle
Phrase
Sum
Things
Words
James Joyce was a synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could. I am an analyzer, trying to leave out as much as I can.
Am
Analyzer
Bring
Could
He
I am
I can
James
James joyce
Joyce
Leave
Much
Out
Trying
Nothing matters but the writing. There has been nothing else worthwhile... a stain upon the silence.
Been
Else
Has-been
Matters
Nothing
Nothing matters
Silence
Stain
Worthwhile
Writing
It is right that he too should have his little chronicle, his memories, his reason, and be able to recognize the good in the bad, the bad in the worst, and so grow gently old down all the unchanging days, and die one day like any other day, only shorter.
Able
Any
Bad
Chronicle
Day
Days
Die
Down
Gently
Good
Grow
He
His
Like
I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.
About
Another
Beginning
Book
Exercise
Him
I write
Just
Life
Longer
Myself
Pencil
Same
Whose
The tears of the world are a constant quality. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.
Another
Begins
Constant
Each
Each one
Else
Laugh
Quality
Same
Somewhere
Somewhere else
Stops
Tears
True
Birth was the death of him.
Birth
Death
Him
There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the fault of his feet.
Blaming
Boots
Fault
Feet
His
Man
Over
You
Just under the surface I shall be, all together at first, then separate and drift, through all the earth and perhaps in the end through a cliff into the sea, something of me. A ton of worms in an acre, that is a wonderful thought, a ton of worms, I believe it.
Believe
Cliff
Drift
Earth
End
First
I believe
In the end
Just
Me
Perhaps
Sea
Separate
Shall
Habit is a great deadener.
Great
Habit
Let me go to hell, that's all I ask, and go on cursing them there, and them look down and hear me, that might take some of the shine off their bliss.
Ask
Bliss
Cursing
Down
Go
Go to hell
Hear
Hell
Look
Me
Might
Off
Shine
Some
We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?
Appointment
Boast
How
How many people
Kept
Many
Much
Our
People
Saints
I shall state silences more competently than ever a better man spangled the butterflies of vertigo.
Better
Better man
Butterflies
Ever
Man
More
Shall
Silences
State
Than
Vertigo
Words are all we have.
Words
We are all born mad. Some remain so.
Born
Mad
Remain
Some
What do I know of man's destiny? I could tell you more about radishes.
About
Could
Destiny
Know
Man
More
Tell
You
To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.
Artist
Find
Form
Mess
Now
Task
Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world.
Funnier
Grant
Most
Nothing
Than
Thing
Unhappiness
World
Yes
You
Personally I have no bone to pick with graveyards.
Bone
Graveyards
Personally
Pick
I have my faults, but changing my tune is not one of them.
Changing
Faults
Them
Tune
If I had the use of my body, I would throw it out the window.
Body
Had
Out
Throw
Use
Window
Would
In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness.
Extinction
Godliness
Landscape
Next
Precision
Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.
Every
Like
Nothingness
Silence
Stain
Unnecessary
Word
Where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.
Am
Go
I am
Know
Must
Never
Silence
Where
You
If you do not love me I shall not be loved If I do not love you I shall not love.
Love
Love me
Love you
Loved
Me
Shall
You
They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.
Birth
Give
Gleam
Grave
Instant
Light
More
Night
Once
Once more
Then
Poets are the sense, philosophers the intelligence of humanity.
Humanity
Intelligence
Philosophers
Poets
Sense
Do we mean love, when we say love?
Love
Mean
Say
No, I regret nothing, all I regret is having been born, dying is such a long tiresome business I always found.
Always
Been
Born
Business
Dying
Found
Having
Long
Nothing
Regret
Tiresome

Samuel Beckett essays

Read more informative topics on our blog
Samuel Beckett 's Waiting For Godot Composition
Literature is among the forms of art that has had a major effect on the development of world. It is a immediate reflection of our society because it portrays great depth of humanism and existentialism. It shows us something all of us haven't experienced before and the lives of other people for different spots and instances. We discover and gain opportunities to expand our understanding of individual lives and the human condition as we interpret our own emotions and thoughts in to the literature work. One of literary works works that deals with the same concerns regarding human condition is..
Subscribe to our updates
79 345 subscribers already with us

Related authors

Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold
Matthew Arnold, (born December 24, 1822, Laleham, Middlesex, England--died April 15, 1888, Liverpool),..
Emile Zola
Emile Zola
Emile Zola, in full Emile-Edouard-Charles-Antoine Zola, (born April 2, 1840, Paris, France--died..
Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton, byname of William Jefferson Clinton, original name William Jefferson Blythe III,..
T.E. Lawrence
T.E. Lawrence
T.E. Lawrence, in full Thomas Edward Lawrence, byname Lawrence of Arabia, also called (from 1927)..
Philo Judaeus
Philo Judaeus
Philo Judaeus, also called Philo of Alexandria, (born 15-10 bce, Alexandria--died 45-50 ce, Alexandria),..
Denis Diderot
Denis Diderot
Denis Diderot, (born October 5, 1713, Langres, France--died July 31, 1784, Paris), French man of..
Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, (born April 15, 1843, New York, New York, U.S.--died February 28, 1916, London, England),..
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson, in full Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson, (born November 13, 1850, Edinburgh,..
Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding, (born April 22, 1707, Sharpham Park, Somerset, Eng.--died Oct. 8, 1754, Lisbon),..
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille
Pierre Corneille, (born June 6, 1606, Rouen, France--died Oct. 1, 1684, Paris), French poet and..
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau, (born July 12, 1817, Concord, Massachusetts, U.S.--died May 6, 1862, Concord),..
Gustave Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert, (born December 12, 1821, Rouen, France--died May 8, 1880, Croisset), novelist..
Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound, in full Ezra Loomis Pound, (born October 30, 1885, Hailey, Idaho, U.S.--died November..
Jane Austen
Jane Austen
Jane Austen, (born December 16, 1775, Steventon, Hampshire, England--died July 18, 1817, Winchester,..
Robert Browning
Robert Browning
Robert Browning, (born May 7, 1812, London--died Dec. 12, 1889, Venice), major English poet of the..
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, (born December 23, 1804, Boulogne, France--died October 13, 1869,..
Maxim Gorky
Maxim Gorky
Maxim Gorky, also spelled Maksim Gorky, pseudonym of Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov, (born March..
John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden, (born August 9 [August 19, New Style], 1631, Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, England--died..
Emanuel Swedenborg
Emanuel Swedenborg
Emanuel Swedenborg, original name (until 1719) Emanuel Swedberg, or Svedberg, (born January 29,..
Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson, byname of Benjamin Jonson, (born June 11?, 1572, London, England--died August 6, 1637,..