I hope no one’s going to object to me commemorating the anniversary of Samuel Beckett‘s birthday a day late. After all, the great pessimist himself would be first to expect such a thing. And his original birth date was Friday the 13th.
Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin on Good Friday, April 13th, 1906 – one of those not-so-happy coincidences that seem to have attended and defined him all his life. A keen sportsman as a youth, Beckett was not only a national-level university cricketer, but also attracted the attention of a series of women through his life, including Peggy Guggenheim and the niece of James Joyce. The woman he actually spent his life with, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, got together with him after he was almost fatally stabbed by a Parisian pimp. He fought in the French Resistance during World War Two, and was hunted by the Gestapo. In the hands of a lesser man, this kind of biography would have become the stuff of action hero legend. But Beckett stuck to his mordant, caustic, take on the human condition from practically his first work till his last, garnering a Nobel Prize and the progenitor’s laurels for some key cultural movements (Theatre of the Absurd, existentialism) along the way.
Access to the full scope of Beckett’s work in English outside the U.S. at least was hampered for a long time by the effective English-language monopolization of many of his later works, such as the superb short novels How It Is and Company, by Calder Publishing. Beckett himself was a notoriously controlling, and even litigious, protector of his own legacy, so perhaps he would have supported this stance. However, thanks to Grove Press and its active embrace of ebooks, you can get the majority of his works on Kindle. Well worth digging into, but just don’t expect to be uplifted.