Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Beckett's Circle

Richard Aldington (1892-1962)
British writer and critic. Along with Nancy Cunard, Aldington sponsored a poetry contest in 1930 for a poem of not more than 100 lines on the subject of time. Beckett’s “Whoroscope” won the £10 prize and was published by Cunard’s Hours Press.

Avigdor Arikha (b. 1929)
Romanian-born Israeli artist. Arikha moved to Paris after fighting in Israel’s War of Independence. Beckett, an avid supporter of the visual arts, became his close friend and patron around the time he was writing Fin de partie.

Sylvia Beach (1887-1962)
American expatriate publisher and proprietor of the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company. In 1929, Beach published, through Shakespeare and Company, Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress, a volume of critical essays on Joyce’s “Work in Progress.” Beckett’s “Dante . . . Bruno . Vico . . Joyce,” his first published work, appeared as the first article in the book.

Roger Blin (1907-1984)
French actor and director active in the Paris avant-garde theatre. Tristan Tzara, a Beckett admirer, originally brought the text of En attendant Godot to Blin’s attention. Blin produced the premiere of Godot at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris on 5 January 1953.

Richard Church (1893-1972)
British writer and editor. After reading the typescript of Murphy, Church urged Chatto & Windus to continue publishing Beckett.

Courmayeur
A small Italian village at the foot of Mont Blanc. Beckett completed the penultimate draft of his short prose piece “Ceiling” here in July 1981.

Henry Crowder (1890-1955)
American musician and composer. Henry-Music, published by Nancy Cunard’s Hours Press in 1930, contains Beckett’s poem “From the Only Poet to a Shining Whore,” set to music composed by Crowder. Cunard dedicated her 1934 anthology Negro, to which Beckett contributed translations of eighteen articles, to Henry Crowder.

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965)
British-born author, editor and publisher. Between 1928 and 1931, she ran her own publishing company, the Hours Press, from her house in La Chapelle-Réanville, Normandy. After the Press published Beckett’s poem “Whoroscope"—the winner of its poetry contest in 1930—the two began a long-lasting friendship. Her interest in African-American culture led her to publish the collection Negro Anthology in 1934.

René Descartes (1596-1650)
French philosopher. A Descartes enthusiast, Beckett based his poem “Whoroscope,” his first individually published work, on the philosopher’s life.

Europa Press
Small press founded and run by George Reavey. As one of its first books, Europa Press brought out—at Beckett’s expense—Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates in 1935.

Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979)
American heiress and art collector Peggy Guggenheim fell in with the Parisian avant-garde of the 1920s. In 1938, she launched her first gallery, Guggenheim Jeune, in London. Beckett appears in her 1946 memoir Out of This Century as the character Oblomov.

The Hours Press
Small press set up by Nancy Cunard in her farmhouse at La Chapelle-Réanville, in Normandy. Beckett won an Hours Press poetry contest in 1930 with “Whoroscope,” a poem based on the life of René Descartes. Cunard published the anthology Negro, for which Beckett translated nineteen articles, through her Hours Press in 1934.

Mary Manning Howe (1905-1999)
Irish-born actress and playwright and childhood friend of Beckett. For a production of her play Youth’s the Season at Dublin’s Gate Theatre, Beckett suggested many major changes, even creating a character named Ego Smith. This experience helped turn Beckett’s interests toward writing drama.

Eugene Jolas (1894-1952)
American expatriate writer and critic who, along with his wife Maria, founded the revolutionary literary magazine transition. In 1929, transition published Beckett’s first critical essay, “Dante . . . Bruno . Vico . . Joyce,” and first piece of fiction, “Assumption."

James Joyce (1882-1941)
Irish expatriate writer. After moving to Paris to take the position of lecteur at the Ecole Normale Supérieur, Beckett fell in with Joyce’s circle, even working as amanuensis and translator on “Work in Progress” (later known as Finnegans Wake). Joyce exerted a tremendous influence on Beckett’s work; Beckett’s first published work, “Dante . . . Bruno . Vico . . Joyce,” was the lead essay in the critical volume Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress.

Jack MacGowran (1918-1973)
Irish actor and close friend of Beckett. The two met in 1957, during the BBC broadcast of All That Fall. Beckett wrote Embers and Eh Joe especially for MacGowran.

Thomas MacGreevy (1896-1967)
Irish poet and critic. The fiercely patriotic MacGreevy preceded Beckett in the post of lecteur d'anglais at the École Normale Supérieure and was popular among the Parisian avant-garde of the late 1920s. When Beckett arrived in Paris, MacGreevy introduced him to his circle of friends, which included James Joyce, Richard Aldington, and Nancy Cunard.

Marcel Mihalovici (1898-1985)
Romanian-born French composer. Mihalovici, with Beckett’s cooperation, created a chamber opera of Krapp’s Last Tape in 1961 and, in 1968, scored Beckett’s radio play Cascando.

Alfred Péron (d. 1945)
Beckett’s close friend and collaborator on the translation of James Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabelle. Beckett and Péron met in Dublin in 1926, when Péron arrived at Trinity College as an exchange lecturer from the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. The elegant Péron wielded a strong influence on Beckett, stimulating his interest in literature and the arts as well as his desire to return to Paris. Péron and his wife Mania were instrumental in Beckett’s involvement in the French Resistance, for which he earned Croix de Guerre in 1945. Péron, arrested by the Gestapo in August 1942 and eventually sent to Mathausen, died shortly after the camp’s liberation in 1945.

Maya “Mania” Lézine Péron
Russian-born wife of Alfred Péron. Both she and her husband recruited Beckett into the Resistance during the Second World War. After Alfred’s death in 1945, she remained close to Beckett, often assisting him with revisions of his work.

Robert Pinget (1919-1997)
Swiss-born French author. In 1957, Pinget translated Beckett’s radio play All That Fall into French. Pinget’s radio play La Manivelle, the text of which Beckett translated as The Old Tune, was performed with Beckett’s La Dernière bande at the Théâtre Récamier in Paris.

Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
French novelist and author of A la recherche du temps perdu. Beckett’s book-length critical study Proust (1931) represents the author’s first attempt to codify his own literary views.

Herbert Read (1893-1968)
British critic, poet, editor, and publisher. On Read’s recommendations, the manuscript of Murphy was finally accepted by Routledge.

George Reavey (1907-1976)
Irish poet, publisher, and translator. Reavey worked out of The European Literary Bureau, a small literary agency, and, along with it, juggled an even more modest publishing operation named Europa Press. He was instrumental in placing Murphy with Routledge and, later, tireless in his efforts to find a taker for Watt. Reavey sold his literary agency before World War II but continued his efforts on Beckett’s behalf in the immediate postwar years.

Dr. Jacob “Jake” Schwartz
A Brooklyn dentist-turned-London book dealer to whom Beckett sold many of the manuscripts, typescripts, and first editions now at the Ransom Center. Beckett referred to Schwartz as “The Great Extractor."

Shakespeare and Company
Sylvia Beach’s Parisian bookshop and lending library. Shakespeare and Company faced, across the lower end of the Rue de l'Odéon, Adrienne Monnier’s Maison des Amis des Livres. Beckett frequented both shops during his early days in Paris.

transition
Paris-based literary quarterly founded by Eugene and Maria Jolas that published installments of James Joyce’s “Work in Progress.” In 1929, transition published Beckett’s first critical essay, “Dante . . . Bruno . Vico . . Joyce,” and first piece of fiction, “Assumption."

Kenneth Tynan (1927-1980)
British theater critic and producer. Beckett submitted his forty-second piece Breath for performance in Tynan’s erotic revue Oh! Calcutta! in 1969. After Tynan made unauthorized changes to the text, including the addition of the phrase “including naked people” to Beckett’s first stage direction “Faint light on stage littered with miscellaneous rubbish,” Beckett refused to allow Breath in the London production.

Tristan Tzara (1896-1963)
Romanian-born French author and proponent of Dadaism. An admirer of Beckett’s works, he persuaded the actor and producer Roger Blin to read the manuscript of En attendant Godot.

Ussy-sur-Marne
French village located about thirty miles outside Paris. In 1953, using money left to him by his mother, Beckett had a simple country house built near here. In contrast to the more hectic speed of life in Paris, Ussy provided Beckett the quiet and solitude he needed for contemplation and writing.

Geer van Velde (1898-1977)
Dutch painter and friend of Beckett. Peggy Guggenheim, who introduced Beckett to van Velde, exhibited his works in his first one-man show at Guggenheim Jeune in 1939.

For more information, see:
Bair, Deidre. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1978.
Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Gale Literary Databases

Compiled by L. Christine Amos, Amanda Price, and Cathy Henderson