The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett (Cambridge Introductions to Literature)
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This is an eloquent and accessible introduction to one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. This book provides biographical and contextual information, but more fundamentally, it also considers how we might think about an enduringly difficult and experimental novelist and playwright who often challenges the very concepts of meaning and interpretation. It deals with his life, intellectual and cultural background, plays, prose, and critical response and relates Beckett's work and vision to the culture and context from which he wrote. McDonald provides a sustained analysis of the major plays, including Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Happy Days and his major prose works including Murphy, Watt and his famous 'trilogy' of novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable). This introduction concludes by mapping the huge terrain of criticism Beckett's work has prompted, and it explains the turn in recent years to understanding Beckett within his historical context.
reclusivity (a horror of publicity that led his wife to greet news of his 1969 Nobel Prize for literature with the words ‘Quelle catastrophe!’). If Beckett expected his silence to close down speculations about the ‘man’ behind the work, it was a forlorn hope. Rather it fed the mystery and aura that surrounded him, bolstering his image as the saintly artist, untainted by grubby self-promotion or by the coarse business of self-explication. Moreover, the lack of specificity of his drama, the
they want to end so much reinforces a familiar Beckettian theme where speech and play-acting become a sort of torture. On the one hand it keeps characters distracted and hence momentarily protected (think how Hamm loves to tell his story); on the other, the whole sorry business – the pretence, the ‘entrapment’ (in the sense of having to go through pre-ordained roles) and the repetition intrinsic to the play-acting – is conflated with existential tedium and angst more generally: ‘Why this farce,
its sleeve. Murphy’s route to mental peace is described early in the novel. He ties himself naked into his rocking chair and rocks until his body is ‘appeased’, after which, we are told, it will be possible for him to come alive in his mind ‘as described in section six’. How he can bind himself so securely without the aid of another is not explained. He is only able to answer the telephone with great diYculty when it rings, so one might wonder how he went about tying his hands to the back of the
spiritual enterprise, his eVort to transcend the body, to purify himself of the debasements of corporeal desire, end mixed in bar-room filth. The wisdom that consists not in the satisfaction but in the ablation of desire, of which he wrote approvingly in Proust, is rather mocked in Murphy. The thwarting of his written will is, in one sense, a deserved punishment. In death Murphy breaks his own ascetic resolutions, his own urge to abnegate worldly desires and pursuits. Leaving a ‘will’ at all
1956, p. 3. 6. The picture first appeared publicly in Beckett at 60 (London: Calder and Boyars, 1967), facing p. 24. 7. Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, ed. and intro. Hannah Arendt (London: Jonathan Cape, 1970), p. 258. Notes to pages 118–23 131 5 Beckett criticism 1. Kenner, Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study, p. 131. 2. P. J. Murphy et al., Critique of Beckett Criticism: A Guide to Research in English, French and German (Columbia,