Sound and Silence
Samuel Beckett was a world renown author of poetry, novels, and theatrical plays. He was born in Ireland and spent much of his adult life in Paris. His works were primarily written in French, and then translated, many times by the author himself, into English. He is known for creating works of dark comedy, and absurdism, and later in his career a minimalist. Due to his late start as an author, he is considered one of the last modernists, along with his good friend and mentor James Joyce.
Samuel Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, and was upset by the selection, claiming that James Joyce should have won it. For this reason he gave most of the 70,000 dollar prize to charities. His Life Beckett was born to a well off Protestant family in Dublin, Ireland, and matched much of the pursuits that this affluence predicted. He excelled as a pianist, in track, boxing, tennis, and most notably in Cricket. He still stands as the only Nobel Laureate with a listing in Wisden’s Cricketers Almanack, considered the oldest running sports publication in the world.
Beckett was born on April 13, 1906, a date reported by Beckett himself. Beckett also claims that this is not entirely accurate, as he has recollection of being in his mother’s womb. The legal system refutes this even further, with legal documents reporting his birth a month later. As he grew older, Beckett turned more and more towards academia, and enrolled in Trinity College at the age of 17, where he studied French and Italian. During this time he was also exposed to theatre, as well as the silent films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, all of which would have an influence on his future writings.
After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree from Trinity College in 1927, Beckett travelled to France, and was introduced to James Joyce, who was enjoying the success and fame of his books Ulysses, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The two men became friends, with much in common, including the rhyme and rhythm of words themselves. Joyce proved to be a great influence on Beckett. It was during this time that Beckett published his first short story, “Assumption” (1929) and his first award winning poem in “Whoroscope” in 1930, winning 10 pounds from The Hours Press.
In 1931 Beckett returned to Dublin, where he penned a novel, which was later re-released in the series of stories, More Pricks Than Kicks in 1934. He took a job as an instructor at Campbell College, Belfast, but the job turned out to be an ill-fated and short job. Beckett turned out to be a harsh critic of his student’s work, and graded them accordingly, which drew many complaints and soon admonishment from the headmaster. When told that the students represented the best of what Belfast had to offer, Beckett only allowed that they were “rich and thick. On a more famous note was his admission of a paper to the Modern Languages Society allegedly written by the French poet Jean du Chas, on the Concentricism movement, which several of the Society backed, vowing for du Chas’ relevance. Beckett had invented the entire movement, the paper and the author. This type of thing led to Beckett’s removal from instructing, and his disdain for the teaching profession as a whole. Given how the “experts” treated a work of complete fiction, it also foreshadowed his own disregard of critics later in life.
These years also started the estrangement of Beckett from his mother, which would become a source from which his writings would draw from for years to come. Indeed, his novel Dream of Fair to Midling Women is widely regarded as very autobiographical, and began the development of Beckett’s unique writing style. After wandering for much of this period, Beckett settled in Paris by 1937, where he finished and published his work, Murphy. The next major event in his live occurred when he was walking home one night, and was stabbed in the chest by a pimp. The blade narrowly missed Beckett’s heart, and perforated one of his lungs.
James Joyce came to his friend’s side, assigning his personal doctor to care for Beckett. He met his assailant later, who claimed that he did not know why he stabbed Beckett, and said that he was sorry. It was an absurd exchange, to be sure, and many often wonder how much it inspired the young author. During his convalescence, Beckett was cared for by Suzanne Descheveaux-Dumesnil, and she became his lifelong companion, helping him Beckett publish his works, and also shielding him from the prying public. It was not until 1961 that the two married. During the years of WW II, Beckett joined the resistance in France, nd although he was dismissive of his involvement, the group he was involved with was awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1945. His period from the end of WWII through the 1950’s is his most prolific, and successful period, where he perfected his style, and wrote his famous books, (although he argued were not a trilogy) Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unamable. Also, he wrote perhaps his best known work, Waiting for Godot. He continued his playwriting in the 1950’s and 60’s , where his minimalist style brought fame and curiosity. His worldwide acclaim growing, until 1969, when he was awarded The Nobel Prize for Literature.
His reaction in true Absurd style “Quelle catastrophe! ” He thought his friend James Joyce should have won the award, and gave the award money to charities, and needy writers. He ultimately passed away on December 22, 1989, after a long battle with Emphysema, following his wife’s death by 6 short months. He is interred in Montparnasse Cemetary in France. WRITING STYLE AND INFLUENCE Beckett is known as an absurdist and minimalist, and clearly his first influences were his good friend James Joyce and Proust. The first who helped shape his writing, while he worked with Joyce, and the other whom he studied at great length.
During his early period of writing he exhibited a love of the language, and often tried to express this in his work, which led to a period of only middling success. This period was also highly autobiographical, which led to some of the trouble that he had with his family, and eventually Jungian therapy, which can be found in his works, especially Watt, Waiting for Godot, and All that Fall, which transcribes some of his therapy sessions almost word for word. His later period of writing can be attributed in a great deal to his decision to write almost entirely in French, a second language.
This caused him to be succinct in his descriptions, and began his work as a minimalist. As he began this style of writing, he started to more and more protest against the norms of writing, eschewing much of what became the model of writing, some even argue to the extent that plot was removed altogether. LEGACY Samuel Beckett’s works, opened the way for many Absurdists. His treatment of theatre in his plays opened the way for other authors to challenge the norms of theatre. He stripped away all other conventions of setting, action and style, and concentrated on the bare minimum of dialogue to carry his story.
Waiting for Godot expresses this in the story of two tramps waiting for a man, Godot, who may or may not arrive. He opened the way for writers to concentrate on the basics, and not feel like they had to be constrained by conventions of accepted literature. His success proved that you could challenge normalacy and still be taken seriously. His courage opened the way for others to challenge literary convention.