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Beckett IN 90 MINUTES
By Paul Strathern
IVAN R. DEECopyright © 2005 Paul Strathern
All right reserved.
IntroductionIn 1946, Beckett found himself back in Ireland, staying with his disapproving mother. He had left Paris because he did not have enough money to continue living in his chosen city. He was now approaching forty, and forced to confront the prospect of his utter failure. All the hopes of his brilliant youth had come to nothing. Apart from a few scattered pieces, mostly in small magazines, he had published just one novel. This had passed virtually unnoticed by the reading public, the bulk of its copies being remaindered. During the war he had written another novel and had at last felt that he was getting somewhere. But this novel had recently been turned down by his publishers, who had reacted to it with "considerable bewilderment," finding it "wild and unintelligible." In their opinion it stood no chance whatsoever of publication.
Though deeply wounded by this rejection, Beckett too was dissatisfied with his work. He disagreed with his publisher's rejection, but he felt a nagging suspicion that he was somehow not on the right track. Something was missing, something eluded him, preventing him from achieving all of which he felt he was capable. The great promise he had shown, the promise that had been recognized by no less than James Joyce himself, remained unfulfilled.
Beckett was at a loss over what to do, and he began drinking heavily in the bars of Dublin. At night he would wander the streets in a bemused state, lost in his thoughts. One night he found himself standing at the end of the stone pier of Dun Laoghaire harbor. Years later he would recall this moment in an early version of his play Krapp's Last Tape, where Krapp's recorded voice disjointedly relates:
Intellectually a year of profound gloom and indigence until that memorable night in March, at the end of the pier, in the howling wind, never to be forgotten, when suddenly I saw the whole thing. The turning point at last. This I imagine is what I have chiefly to set down this evening against the day when my work will be done and perhaps no place left in my memory and no thankfulness for the miracle that-for the fire it set alight. What I saw then was that the assumption I had been going on all my life, namely ... clear to me at last that the dark I have been fighting off all this time is in reality my most ... unshatterable association till my dying day of story and night with the light of understanding and ...
Beckett had realized that he had been looking in the wrong place, in the wrong direction. Instead of trying to come to terms with the world around him, he should have been focusing on the inner world, on "the dark he had struggled to keep under." Joyce had gone as far as it was possible to go "in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one's material." But Beckett "realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than adding." His subject matter was not the great intellectual achievements of the human condition but its hopelessness and despair, the grim farcical element of its inescapable failure, all the things that he himself knew so well. From this point on, Beckett would no longer care whether what he wrote appeared "wild and unintelligible." He would express the disconnectedness of his own inner voice, the voice that had accompanied him through the long voyage of his life so far.
Excerpted from Beckett IN 90 MINUTES by Paul Strathern Copyright © 2005 by Paul Strathern.
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