Samuel Beckett

Samuel Barclay Beckett was born in Foxrock, County Dublin, on April 13, 1906. He was the second of two sons of a middle-class Protestant couple. He studied at Earlsfort House in Dublin, and then at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen (where Oscar Wilde had gone) where he first began to learn French, one of the two languages in which he would write. A well-rounded athlete, Beckett excelled especially in cricket, tennis, and boxing in his school days. Though he continued with sports, his attention turned increasingly to academics when at 17 he entered Trinity College, choosing French and Italian as his subjects. Beckett enjoyed the vibrant theater scene of post-independence Dublin, preferring revivals of J.M. Synge plays. Moreover, he had the opportunity to watch American films and discover the silent comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin that would crucially influence his interest in the vaudevillian tramp. After graduation, Beckett traveled to Paris where he met fellow Dubliner James Joyce, to whom he became a favored assistant. Inspired by the vibrant Parisian literary circle, Beckett published his first poem, "Whoroscope," in 1930, and the groundbreaking “Proust,” shorly thereafter. When he returned to Dublin later that year to lecture at Trinity, Beckett was writing his first stories, which would later comprise “More Pricks Than Kicks” (1934). Returning to Paris in 1932, Beckett wrote his first novel, “Dream of Fair to Middling Women.” Out of money, he went back to Dublin and then moved temporarily to London where he worked on much of his next novel, “Murphy.” Still without a steady source of income (“Murphy” would not appear until 1938), he moved constantly for the next few years before settling permanently in Paris in 1937. His first French novel, “Mercier et Camier,” written between 1947 and 1950—with its wandering duo, minimalist style, and insistence on repetition—predicts the concerns and form of Waiting for Godot. In this time, he also wrote his famous novel trilogy (“Molloy,” “Malone Dies,” “The Unnamable”). In 1947, he wrote his first play, Eleutheria, which he would not allow to be published during his lifetime. Between 1948 and 49, he wrote Waiting for Godot. In the 1950s and 1960s, Beckett's playwriting continued with a series of masterpieces, including Endgame, Krapp's Last Tape and Happy Days. He involved himself in various productions of his plays across Europe and in the United States, wrote his first radio plays, and created remarkably innovative prose fiction, including the epic “How It Is” (1961) and the haunting “The Lost Ones” (1970). Worldwide appreciation of his work growing, he received the Nobel Prize in 1969. The 1970s were a less prolific period, though he managed some new projects, including television plays for the BBC, and continued to interest himself in producions of his theatrical works. In 1977 he began the autobiographical “Company” and in the early 1980s crafted more prose pieces (including “Ill Seen Ill Said” and “Worstward Ho”) as well as more plays (including Rockaby and Ohio Impromptu). His last major work, the prose fiction “Stirrings Still,” was written in 1986. In the same year, Beckett began to suffer from onsetting emphysema. After his first hospitilization, he wrote in bed his final work, the poem “What is the Word.” Moved into a nursing home, Le Tiers Temps, his deteriorating health prevented him from writing, and his efforts were given instead to translation of his works. He died December 22, 1989.