Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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How It Is

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One of Samuel Beckett’s most difficult works is the ‘novel’—the single quotes are his—Comment c’est. He began work on it at his “shack” in the “spinachy Seine-et-Marne” near the end of 1958. He wrote repeatedly to Mary Manning Howe of the difficulties he was having with the book but was at the same time unable to set it aside.

By the end of the summer of 1960, Beckett stopped work on the book. Beckett’s French publisher, Jérôme Lindon, planned to bring it out at once, but the printer dragged his heels and Comment c’est did not appear until the beginning of 1961. Even after publication, Beckett’s troubles with the book were not over. On 9 November 1961 he wrote to George Reavey that he was having equally great trouble translating the work into English. Beckett went on suffering through the translation and in the spring of 1964, How It Is appeared in New York and London.

Maurice Nadeau in his 26 January 1961 review in Express (25) described the almost non-existent progression of the novel in which the narrator is caught up in a cyclical journey “always toward the east” during which he finds Pim, a kind of doppelganger, “his equal, his brother,” whom he abandons. The journey then, in effect, begins all over again.