Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Editing Beckett

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Editing Beckett

Article excerpt

It is no small irony that for a writer so punctilious about his texts -- especially their performance -- Samuel Beckett's work has been subject to so much inept editing and so many publication blunders that he could lament to his "official" biographer, James Knowlson, "My texts are in a terrible mess." The innumerable printing errors introduced into early editions of his work -- the edition of Watt published jointly in France by Collection Merlin and Olympia Press (1953) and reprinted then both by John Calder in Great Britain (1963) and by Grove Press in the United States (1959) being perhaps the most egregious -- have still never been fully corrected. As recently as August 13, 1992, John Banville, Literary Editor of the Irish Times, could note in the New York Review of Books, "It is time now for all of Beckett's works . . . to be properly edited and published in definitive and accurate editions in order that future readers be allowed to see them for the unique testaments that they are" (20, emphasis added). One could hardly agree more -- but textual purity may simply be a longing for "paradise lost," since textual problems are more easily recognized and ridiculed than remedied. A recent spate of letters to the Times Literary, Supplement is a case in point. What should have been a cause for celebration, the publication of Beckett's long-suppressed first novel of 1932, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, has instead fueled the textual controversy and led to a clash of egos. Although Beckett wrote only one Dream of Fair to Middling Women, currently two separate and competing editions of it, with more than a few typographical differences between them, are in print. In a letter to the Times Literary Supplement (16 July 1993), Eoin O'Brien, co-editor of Dream, dissociated himself from the second edition, although he remains listed as its editor: "Both the US (Arcade) and UK (Calder) 1993 editions of this work have been printed without taking into account the necessary corrections 1, and my co-editor, Edith Fournier, made to the proofs of the re-set text. It is of deep concern that Samuel Beckett's work be treated in this manner. We can be held accountable," he continues, "only for the first edition published in 1992 by Black Cat Press in Dublin and can accept no responsibility for the errors in the US and UK flawed editions" (17). But even that 1992 Dublin edition of Dream is not without flaw and leaves itself open to question about editorial policy. What justification there was for choosing one of Beckett's two endings to the exclusion of the other and why some silent editorial changes (which were not corrections of error) were made to the Dublin text remain unexplained. Let me cite a single example of the latter. In Beckett's typescript the narrator discusses the protagonist's (i.e., Belacqua's) translation of Rimbaud's Le bateau ivre into English as follows: "You know, of course, don't you, that he did him into the eye into English." For some reason editors O'Brien and Fournier decided that Beckett's original image wanted improving, and they published the following sentence as Beckett's: "You know, of course, don't you, that he did him pat into English." In the not too distant future I expect that Dream may have to be re-edited.(1)

More recently, Beckett's French and American publishers, Jerome Lindon of Editions de Minuit and Barney Rosset, formerly of Grove Press and now of Blue Moon Books, have been at loggerheads over the publication of Beckett's last major unpublished work, the 1947 three-act play Eleutheria (the Greek word for freedom). After a series of threatened lawsuits by Lindon, functioning as literary executor,(2) the work has been published in France by Minuit and in the United States, in a translation by Michael Brodsky, by Foxrock, Inc., an imprint devised by Rosset and his co-publishers, John Oakes and Dan Simon of Four Walls Eight Windows. That text is bound to be embroiled in additional controversy as well, if for no other reason than its being translated by someone other than Beckett. …

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