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Beckett, Samuel

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(Irish 1906–89)

Born near Dublin, and educated at Trinity College, Beckett spent several years lecturing at Belfast, the École Normale Supérieure in Paris (1928–30), and Trinity, before permanently settling in Paris. Though his greatest achievements were in drama, it was through his early novels that Beckett was able to adapt the ‘stream of consciousness’ subjectivity of James Joyce's novels into his minimalist, monologue-like narration. The first instalment of his trilogy, Molloy (1951) is two first-person monologues: by the bedridden Molloy recalling his odyssey towards his mother, and by Moran, a private detective who is sent to find him. Similarly, Malone Dies (1951) depicts the decrepit Malone waiting for ‘the throes’ of death and filling his mind and his remaining time with memories and bitter commentary. The novel disintegrates as the protagonist does.

Beckett's goal was to create art out of increasingly simplified material, reducing his image of human existence to the sparest elements, both strikingly bleak and grotesquely comic. By the time he arrives at the third ‘reworking’ of the novel, The Unnamable (1953), though it seems to encompass its predecessors, the monologue is so opaque the narrator doesn't even know who he is, though he strives to find out, sitting nowhere, nowhen, ‘like a great horned owl in an aviary’. Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

James Joyce, Albert Camus, Jorge Luis Borges, Mervyn Peake. See IRELAND  RP

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