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, and in 1930 he won a small literary prize with his poem "Whoroscope", which largely concerns Rene 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, eventually settling permanently in France. There he published a critical study of Marcel Proust.
After a visit to the racist Germany of Adolf Hitler in 1937, a disgusted Beckett returned to live in Paris. There, he attempted a Joycean novel which was eventually abandoned and published as a series of short stories, More Pricks Than Kicks (it has been suggested that each of the stories is a gentle parody of those in Joyce's Dubliners). This was followed by the novel Murphy, a bleak story of Irish poverty and social alienation. 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 his wife, Suzanne Descheveaux-Dumesnil, 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 probably the three collectively known as "the trilogy", Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (1951 in French, translated to English 1958) and The Unnamable (1953, translated 1960). 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."
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.
Cimetiere de Montparnasse, Paris, France. His gravestone 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.
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