Samuel Barclay Beckett (possibly April 13, 1906 - December 22, 1989) was an absurdist Irish playwright, novelist and poet. Although Beckett insisted he was born on Good Friday, April 13 1906, his birth certificate puts the date a month later.
He studied French, Italian and English at Trinity College, Dublin from 1923 to 1927, and shortly thereafter took a teaching post in Paris. There he met James Joyce, who was to have a massive influence on him. Beckett continued his writing career while doing some secretarial duties for Joyce. In 1929 he published his first work, a critical essay defending Joyce's work. His first short story, "Assumption", was published the same year in the periodical transition, and in 1930 he won a small literary prize with his poem "Whoroscope", which largely concerns René Descartes, another major influence.
In 1930, he returned to Trinity College as a lecturer, but left after less than two years, and began to travel throughout Europe. He also spent time in London, publishing his critical study of Proust there in 1931, and in 1933, in the wake of his father's death, he began two years of Jungian psychotherapy with Dr. Wilfred Bion, who in 1935 took him to hear Jung's third Tavistock lecture, an event which he would still recall many years later. In 1932 he worked on his first novel, "Dream of Fair to Middling Women", but after many rejections from publishers he decided instead to split it into several smaller parts and retitle it "More Pricks Than Kicks", and in 1933 it was published in this form. In 1935 he worked on his novel "Murphy", which still showed the heavy influence of Joyce, and then in 1936 departed for extensive travels around Germany, during which time he filled several notebooks with lists of noteworthy artwork that he had seen, and also noted his distaste for the Nazi savagery which was then taking over the country. In 1937, he returned to Ireland briefly, but after a falling-out with his mother he decided to settle permanently in Paris. In December, when refusing the solicitations of a pimp, he was stabbed and nearly killed, and while recovering he met the woman who would be his lifelong companion, Suzanne Descheveaux-Dumesnil. (In 1961, in a secret civil ceremony in England, he married her, but mainly, as with Joyce, due to reasons relating to French inheritance law.) In 1938 he published "Murphy" and the next year translated it into French.
He remained in France at the outbreak of World War II and following the 1940 occupation by Germany, Beckett joined the French Resistance, working as a courier. During the next two years, on several occasions he was almost caught by the Gestapo but in August of 1942 his unit was betrayed by a former Catholic priest and he and Suzanne fled south on foot to the safety of the small village of Roussillon, in the Vaucluse département on the Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur region.
Although Samuel Beckett rarely spoke about his war time activities, during the two years he stayed in Roussillon, he helped the Maquis sabotage the German army in the Vaucluse mountains. While in hiding, he began work on the novel Watt which he would complete in 1945. For his efforts in fighting the German occupation, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance by the French government.
Beckett's best known novels are the series of three novels written in French (often referred to, against Beckett's explicit wishes, as "the Trilogy"): "Molloy" (1947; published in French in 1951; in English, partly translated by Patrick Bowles, in 1953), "Malone Dies" (1947-48; published in French 1951; in English, translated by the author, in 1956) and "The Unnamable" (1949-50; published in French 1953; in English, by the author, in 1957). The Unnamable opens in the following manner, which might be said to be typical of Beckett's mature style:
"Where now? Who now? When now? Unquestioning. I, say I. Unbelieving. Questions, hypotheses, call them that. Keep going, going on, call that going, call that on."
Beckett is most famous for the play Waiting for Godot (published 1952, English translation published 1955), which opened to mainly bad reviews but slowly became very popular and is still often performed today. Like most of his works after 1947, the play was first written in French (under the title En attendant Godot). Beckett is thus considered one of the great French "absurdist" playwrights of the twentieth century, along with Ionesco and Jean Genet. He translated his works into the English language himself, with the exception of some sections of Molloy (see above).
Another well-known play from the same period is Endgame.
Beckett's theatre is stark, fundamentally minimalist, and deeply pessimistic about human nature and the human situation. After his last full length novel, How It Is, his work explores his themes in increasingly cryptic and attenuated style.
Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1969.
Elected Saoi of Aosdána, 1984.
He died on December 22, 1989 and was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris, France. His gravestone (external link (http://www.Samuel-Beckett.net/samgrave.jpg)) is a massive slab of polished black granite. Chiseled into its surface is "Samuel Beckett 1906-1989" and the comparable information for his wife, Suzanne, who is buried with him. At the foot of his grave stands one lone tree.
List of works
Eleutheria (1940s, first published 1995)
Waiting for Godot (first published 1952)
Endgame (published 1957)
Happy Days (published 1960)
All That Fall (radio play, 1956)
Act Without Words I (1956)
Act Without Words II (1956)
Krapp's Last Tape (1958)
Rough for Theatre I (late 1950s)
Rough for Theatre II (late 1950s)
Rough for Radio I (radio play, never broadcast, 1961, rewritten as Cascando)
Rough for Radio II (radio play, early 1960s)
Words and Music (radio play, 1961)
Cascando (radio play, 1962)
Film (film, 1963)
The Old Tune (radio play, adaptation of Robert Pinget's La Manivelle, published 1963)
Come and Go (1965)
Eh Joe (television play, 1965)
Not I (1972)
That Time (1975)
Ghost Trio (television play, 1975)
... but the clouds ... (television play, 1976)
A Piece of Monologue (1980)
Ohio Impromptu (1981)
Nacht und Träume (television play, 1982)
What Where (1983)
Samuel Beckett Resources
Samuel Beckett Resources A comprehensive grouping of on-line essays, reviews, analyses and various other material related to the life and works of Samuel Beckett.