illustrated portrait of Irish novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

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What role have women played in Beckett's life? Mother, nurse, girlfriends,whore,fictional characters. Krapp's last tape.

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First, note the difference between the two biographies – Dierdre Bahr’s unauthorized and speculative one that has no scholarly status and arrempts to tie Beckett's life into his work in a clumsy, graduate student way, and James Knowlson’s authorized biography, which has access to all of Beckett’s correspondence, as well as Beckett’s personal endorsement (written after his death but assigned by him to Knowlson personally.) Beckett was a private person in that he eschewed personal appearances, award ceremonies, and media interviews, so all that is known about him is found in Knowlson’s biography (q.v.), for example, his long marriage, in which the couple shared a dwelling but seldom communicated.

   In his literature, there is a residue of references to love affairs, none of them in detail (example: the collection of short pieces, First Love and Other Shorts, whose ironic title alone may give a clue to Beckett’s attitude.)  His trilogy and other prose pieces seem to point to an odd relationship with mothers (in the abstract)-- in fact, the suggestion that such characters as Molloy and Malone are trying to return to their mother, by which may be meant trying to return to a pre-birth bliss),  and his plays include several strong female characters (Winnie in Happy Days; a mother-daughter couple in Footfalls, etc. – one of his favorite actors was Billie Whitelaw, whose performance as The Mouth in Not I is an outstanding acting feat), do not directly deal with love affairs or such psycho-social matters.  Throughout his works, however, there are hints at disappointed character relationships (see, for example, Eh, Joe), which, given the bleak vision of his canon, could only be further manifestations of his disappointment with life itself, full of meaningless activities – crawling through the mud, pulling pointless objects from bags, etc.—culminating in the inevitable.  As for peripheral women – nurses, whores, and the like -- they are unlikely to people his scenes at any rate, since his scenes can hardly be said to be “real” in the conventional sense, and certainly are not peopled with casual figures.  Nonetheless, some serious scholarship awaits in this area.

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