Samuel Beckett’s first book, Whoroscope (1930), a ninety-eight-line poem which deals with the life of the French philosopher Rene Descartes and the subject of time, won for the impoverished twenty-four-year-old writer ten pounds and publication by Nancy Cunard’s modest Hours Press. Two of Beckett’s writer friends, Richard Aldington and Thomas McGreevy, immediately urged Charles Prentice, an editor at Chatto and Windus, to commission Beckett to write a monograph on Marcel Proust, the major modernist French novelist of the first half of the twentieth century, for its Dolphin series. Prentice, impressed by Whoroscope, agreed.
At first delighted by the assignment, Beckett promptly set to work. He wrote Proust in Paris, where he had just finished a two-year teaching term at the Ecole Normale Superieure. Every day he sat in the Cafe de l’Arrive across from the Luxembourg Gardens, struggling with what eventually became a seventy-two-page essay. When he grew tired, he would walk through the nearby park to reenergize himself. Before long, however, delight turned into frustration. Beckett increasingly came to find his labor tedious, and finally even hateful. Nevertheless, he completed it late in the summer of 1930 and soon thereafter returned to Dublin, near which he had been born and spent his youth, to begin teaching at his alma mater, Trinity College. Proust appeared on March 5, 1931. Several positive reviews of it appeared, and it sold well enough for Beckett to be able to pay back to Aldington some money he had borrowed so that he could remain in Paris while working on his monograph.
The form of Proust may suggest some of the difficulty...
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