Beckett’s Novels and PlaysJune 27, 2021
Beckett briefly returned to Dublin in 1945. He then worked for several months as a warehouse clerk and translator at the hospital established by the Irish Red Cross in Saint-Lô.
In 1946 he went back to Dublin with his mother. During this visit, he became aware of something in his mother’s room that would affect and shape his entire literary life. He later fictionalized this experience in the play Krapp’s Last Tape in 1958. Krapp’s discovery in the game takes place on a stormy night, at an Eastern Quay of Dún Laoghaire. Some critics identify Beckett with Krapp to the point of suggesting that Beckett’s own artistic inspiration took place in the same place, in the same kind of air. Throughout the play, Krapp listens to a tape he made earlier in his life; at one point the teenager overhears himself saying: “…at the end it’s clear that the darkness I’ve always tried to suppress is really my best…” But Krapp fast-forwards the tape and the audience doesn’t get to know his full discovery.
Beckett later told James Knowlson that the missing word in the recording was “dude”. According to Beckett, this experience stemmed from her relationship with James Joyce. Because there was a possibility that he would be in Joyce’s shadow forever, he was sure he could never beat her at his own game. Then he had this experience, and according to Knowlson it was “a turning point that changed his entire career.” In his biography, Damned to Fame, Knowlson described how Beckett explained this experience to him:
“In describing this experience to me, Beckett focused on the realization of his own stupidity, talking about his anxieties over his helplessness and ignorance. When describing what he owed to James Joyce, he told me this: “I realized that Joyce, knowing more, is in control of his material. He had reached the last point of being. Moreover, he was constantly improving it. I realized that my way is to become poor and ignorant all the time; Beckett rejected the Joyce philosophy, which argues that knowing more is a way of creatively understanding and controlling the world. Therefore, his future works are about deprivation, failure, exile, and loss; in his own words, “the unknowing” and would focus on the “don’ts”.” In 1946, Jean-Paul Sartre’s magazine Les Temps Modernes published the first part of Beckett’s short story Suite, later known as La fin or The End, without realizing that half of it was undelivered. Simone de Beauvoir refused to publish the second part of the story. Beckett also began writing his fourth novel, Mercier with Camier, which was not published until 1970. This novel was in many ways a precursor to Beckett’s soon to be most famous work, Waiting for Godot. More importantly, it was Beckett’s first full-length work written directly in French. Beckett would write most of his later works in French, including his trilogy of novels consisting of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamed. Although his mother tongue is English, the reason why he wrote his works in French was because, in his own words, it was easier to write “without style” in French. Beckett liked the “smell of foreignness” that French carried for him, and he wrote in French to “get rid of the automatisms inherent in the use of a native language.”
Beckett owes most of his fame to his play Waiting for Godot. In an often-quoted article, critic Vivian Mercier wrote, “Beckett succeeded in writing the theoretically impossible thing, a play in which nothing happened but still stuck in the audience’s seat. Moreover, in the second act, considering the cunning repetition of the first act, he had twice written a play in which nothing happened. succeeded.” he said. Like most of his works after 1947, this play was originally written in French as En attendant Godot. Beckett worked on this game between October 1948 and January 1949. Published in 1952, the play was first staged in 1953. The English translation was published two years later. The play became popular in Paris, achieving critical success, but still much debated. It received poor reviews when it debuted in London in 1955, but positive reviews from The Sunday Times’ Harold Hobson and later Kenneth Tynan dispelled that negative mood. In the US, the play was unsuccessful in Miami, and was successful in New York with 59 screenings. The play, which later became very popular, was successfully staged in the USA and Germany.
Beckett now wrote mostly in French and translated all of his work into English himself, except for Molloy, which he translated with Patrick Bowles. The success of Waiting for Godot opened up a career in theater for its author. Beckett continued to write long plays. These include 1957’s Endgame, the aforementioned Krapp’s Last Tape (English), 1960’s Happy Days (English), and 1963’s The Game.
In 1961, in recognition of Beckett’s work, he shared with Jorge Luis Borges International Publishers