The culmination of a vast research project, the fourth volume of The Letters of Samuel Beckett is brought together by scholars George Craig and Dan Gunn. They follow Beckett through his career as a writer, including translations of his letters, year-by-year chronologies and profiles of his correspondents, providing a remarkable insight into one of the 20th century’s most influential writers.
“There are lives worth telling… I do not find this the case with mine.”
The duo are soon to publish the fourth installment of their series, documenting the last 24 or so years of Beckett’s life through his letters. They begin by reading an array of these such letters to give insight into his wit, approach, relationships and thoughts in life.
He was determined to give away both his fame and his money – he would help anyone in his life; he wrote to say he had a dream that one friend wasn’t doing well and enclosed a cheque to make sure they were okay. He offered constant encouragement, noting “Stop re-reading your writing and get back to work”, and that asking the value of one’s work should be the last question you ever consider.
Beckett almost shunned praise and awards – he sought not to have his work submitted for prizes, and though humbled people thought him worthy of the Nobel, sent his publishers to collect it. When it came to biography, he was no less resolute. He felt “there are lives worth telling… I do not find this the case with mine”, though he did not stop family and friends being interviewed for biographies written about him – it was just him who would have no part.
“All I’m good for.”
George and Dan note that they were already fans and scholars of Beckett but this is a world that they kept on wanting to go back to, only aided further but his letters. When questioned how he’d fare in today’s age of celebrity and technology, they feel that he would shun the interview side, but probably take keen interest in using social media to experiment with new ways to write.
The sense you get of Beckett through these letters is astounding, there’s no predictability about him and his writings right until the very end. One person, a friend, not a journalist, asked him in a letter, “Why do you write?” It was the only time he would answer such a question, and it was a simple: “All I’m good for.”