Samuel Beckett

Beckett, Samuel (bĕkˈĭt) [key], 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 Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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