Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Beginnings and Early Writings

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Samuel Beckett was born on 13 April 1906 in Foxrock, near Dublin, into an upper-middle-class Protestant family. He took a degree in Modern Languages at Trinity College, Dublin, taught briefly in Belfast and then, under an exchange program between Trinity College and the Ecole Normale Supérieure, went to Paris as lecteur d'anglais for two years in the fall of 1928.

Soon after his arrival in Paris Beckett was introduced to James Joyce by Thomas MacGreevy, Beckett’s predecessor in the Ecole Normale post. Joyce’s eyesight was failing and he called on Beckett to assist him in a variety of literary tasks, including taking part in the translation of Joyce’s “Anna Livia Plurabelle—a beautiful but difficult passage of “Work in Progress” that was to eventually become Finnegans Wake.

At the end of his two-year stint at the Ecole Normale Beckett returned to Dublin, taught four terms at Trinity, then resigned, moving about a good deal in the process of finding his way as a writer. Early articles, poems, and stories of his were already beginning to appear in avant-garde reviews. He worked at a novel, “Dream of Fair to Middling Women,” which proved to be unpublishable at the time (it first appeared in print posthumously in 1992). In 1930, he won a competition conducted by The Hours Press “for the best poem on Time” and the Press published his winning entry as a separate plaquette.

figure 1

This photograph of Beckett at age 3 undoubtedly evoked the passage of reminiscence that appears on page 19 of the original edition of Beckett’s Comment c'est, published in 1961 by Les Editions de Minuit. That passage appears on pages 16-17 of the author’s translation (How It Is), as published by Calder & Boyars in 1964.

. . . it’s me all of me and my mother’s
face I see it from below it’s like nothing I ever saw

we are on a veranda smothered in verbena the scented sun
dapples the red tiles yes I assure you
the huge head hated with birds and flowers is bowed down
over my curls the eyes burn with severe love I offer her
mine pale upcast to the sky whence cometh our help and
which I know perhaps even then with time shall pass away

in a word bolt upright on a cushion on my knees whelmed
in a nightshirt I pray according to her instructions

that’s not all she closes her eyes and drones a snatch of the
so-called Apostles' Creed I steal a look at her lips

she stops her eyes burn down on me again I cast up mine in
haste and repeat awry