SAMUEL BECKETT by Deirdre Bait
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It may be well that Bait brings neither an arresting critical framework nor any particular eloquence to this full-scale biography: Beckett himself comes fully equipped with complex intellectual and psychological voicings, and the quiet application of literate, sympathetic scholarship has allowed him to emerge without pomp or clutter. Unlike biographies of so many creative giants, this one does not peak early and then drift--because Beckett wasn't famous till age 47 (with Waiting for Godot in 1953), couldn't even produce substantial work till past 30. Moody and passive, he spent the pre-WW II decades alternating between Dublin and Paris--where he became ""man-of-all-work"" to deified James Joyce till Joyce's daughter's unrequited infatuation made him persona non grata. His writing then consisted of criticism, hyper-allusive poetry, an unpublished Joycean novel, and a Trinity parody of Le Cid wherein Bait finds foreshadowings of Lucky's aria in Godot. How did this Oblomov-like, gifted but imitative, pubcrawling hanger-on come out of ""arrested development"" and find his own voice? Bait points to two years of psychoanalysis in London (a necessity when a ceaseless festival of psychosomatic ills made life unbearable), to his dour doggedness (42 publishers rejected his first novel), and to the War--which found the apolitical expatriate in the unlikely role of Resistance leader. Whatever the reasons, a 1946 ""vision"" brought Beckett the essentials of the ""Beckettian"" mode--monologue, simple vocabulary, placelessness, plotlessness, timelessness--that would characterize his feverish, French postwar output. This 30-year drama of obstructed genius triumphant is solidly weighted by Bait's explorations of Beckett's philosophical sources, his obsession with ""control,"" and his saturation of later work with autobiographical references. She does less well with his minimal personal contacts, and the last 20 years (rarefied work, privacy shattered by the Nobel) take on a sort of unstructured drone. No, Bait is not the ideal Beckett soulmate: too humorless, slightly prissy, and earthbound. But she has brought together massive documentation, examined each work with balanced, non-pedantic intensity, and avoided labels and theories. Left standing in the center is a stillmasked but sharply outlined figure of immense sadness who may well fascinate even those who'd never dream of sitting through Endgame.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1978
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich