Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett (bĕk´Ĭt), 1906–89, Anglo-French playwright and novelist, b. Dublin. Beckett studied and taught in Paris before settling there permanently in 1937. He wrote primarily in French, frequently translating his works into English himself. His first published novel, Murphy (1938), typifies his later works by eliminating the traditional elements of plot, character, and setting. Instead, he presents the experience of waiting and struggling with a pervading sense of futility. The anguish of persisting in a meaningless world is intensified in Beckett's subsequent novels including Watt (1942–44); the trilogy Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (1951), and The Unnamable (1953); How It Is (1961); and The Lost Ones (1972). In his theater of the absurd, Beckett combined poignant humor with an overwhelming sense of anguish and loss. Best known and most controversial of his dramas are Waiting for Godot (1952) and Endgame (1957), which have been performed throughout the world. Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Beckett's other works include a major study of Proust (1931); the plays Krapp's Last Tape (1959) and Happy Days (1961); a screenplay, Film (1969); short stories, Breath (1966) and Lessness (1970); collected shorter prose in Stories and Texts for Nothing (tr. 1967), No's Knife (1967), and The Complete Short Prose: 1929–1989 (1996, ed. by S. E. Gontarski); volumes of collected writings, More Pricks than Kicks (1970) and First Love and Other Shorts (1974); and Poems (1963). His Collected Works (16 vol.) was published in 1970 and a comprehensive centenary edition (5 vol.) was published in 2006. Beckett's first works of fiction and drama were both published posthumously, the novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women (1932) in 1992 and the play Eleuthéria (1947) in 1995.

See M. D. Fehsenfeld et al., ed., The Letters of Samuel Beckett (2 vol., 2009–); J. and E. Knowlson, Beckett Remembering/Remembering Beckett: A Centenary Celebration (2006); memoir by A. Atik (2006); biographies by D. Bair (1980), J. Knowlson (1996), and A. Cronin (1997); studies by H. Kenner (1968 and 1973), R. Cohn (1972 and 1973), S. Connor (1986), P. Gidal (1986), R. Pountney (1988), L. Gordon (1996), C. C. Andonian (1998), J. D. O'Hara (1998), A Uhlmann and S. E. Gontarski, ed. (2006), and S. Watt (2009); S. E. Gontarski, ed., A Companion to Samuel Beckett (2010).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett
Hugh Kenner.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973
The Critical Response to Samuel Beckett
Cathleen Culotta Andonian.
Greenwood Press, 1998
Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage
L. Graver; R. Federman.
Routledge, 1999
Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot
Harold Bloom.
Chelsea House, 1987
Librarian’s tip: This is a book of literary criticism
Happy Days: A Play in Two Acts
Samuel Beckett.
Grove Press, 1961
Murphy
Samuel Beckett.
Grove Press, 1957
Zone of Evaporation: Samuel Beckett's Disjunctions
Paul Stewart.
Rodopi, 2006
The Drama in the Text: Beckett's Late Fiction
Enoch Brater.
Oxford University Press, 1994
No-Thing Is Left to Tell: Zen/Chaos Theory in the Dramatic Art of Samuel Beckett
John Leeland Kundert-Gibbs.
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999
Myth and Ritual in the Plays of Samuel Beckett
Katherine H. Burkman.
Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1987
Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot: A Reference Guide
William Hutchings.
Praeger, 2005
Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity
Richard Begam.
Stanford University Press, 1996
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