Mark Danner

Laughter and Annihilation: The Writing of Samuel Beckett

Laughter and Annihilation

The Writing of Samuel Beckett

Spring 2022/ English 166/ Tuesday&Thursday/ 2-3:30 pm/ Wheeler 30

Mark Danner

The Twentieth Century offered a unique blending of advancement and atrocity, genocide and progress, and surely no single artist captured this more fully and more fearlessly than Samuel Beckett. Spanning the modernist and postmodernist eras, Beckett’s vast body of work in fiction and drama confronts us with a relentless exploration of loneliness and destruction and a single-minded flight to the very limits of human expression. Out of this near maniacal quest he produced — impossibly — writing that is off the charts funny. How did he achieve this pungent blending of laughter and doom in works like Waiting for GodotMolloyEndgame and so many others?  In this class, through a close reading of Beckett’s stories, novels and plays, and a taste of some of the writers who most influenced him and whom he most influenced, we will seek to find out. In addition to Beckett’s works we will read a bit of Descartes, some Joyce, a pinch of Proust and a sprinkling of Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Sam Shepherd and Suzan-Lori Parks, among others.

Laughter and Annihilation

The Writing of Samuel Beckett

Spring 2022/ English 166/ Tuesday&Thursday/ 2-3:30 pm/ Wheeler 30

Mark Danner

The Twentieth Century offered a unique blending of advancement and atrocity, genocide and progress, and surely no single artist captured this more fully and more fearlessly than Samuel Beckett. Spanning the modernist and postmodernist eras, Beckett’s vast body of work in fiction and drama confronts us with a relentless exploration of loneliness and destruction and a single-minded flight to the very limits of human expression. Out of this near maniacal quest he produced — impossibly — writing that is off the charts funny. How did he achieve this pungent blending of laughter and doom in works like Waiting for GodotMolloyEndgame and so many others?  In this class, through a close reading of Beckett’s stories, novels and plays, and a taste of some of the writers who most influenced him and whom he most influenced, we will seek to find out. In addition to Beckett’s works we will read a bit of Descartes, some Joyce, a pinch of Proust and a sprinkling of Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Sam Shepherd and Suzan-Lori Parks, among others.

Course Assistant Shelby Rew is our undergraduate course assistant. Please contact her for class notes and recordings, etc. 

Class Requirements This class will be a mixture of lectures and discussion, backed up by a large amount of reading and viewing, and some writing. The most important requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions

*Keep up with reading and writing assignments

*Participate in discussions

*Offer a class presentation, in collaboration with one or two colleagues

*Complete one four-page midterm paper and one eight-page final paper

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the quality of his or her writing, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade. Students who miss multiple class sessions will not do well in this course. 

Schedule Note that classes will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 pm. Note In keeping with university directives, the first four classes will be conducted online, with a Zoom link to come. From February 1st onward, classes will meet in Wheeler 30.

Reading Our primary reading will draw on a series of novels and plays by Samuel Beckett. They are listed below under Required Texts. I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies and in the edition specified either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them and so that during discussions we will all be “on the same page.” 

I have also listed several secondary volumes and will suggest other books and articles as the class progresses. These are in no way required but are suggested for students wanting to supplement their primary reading.

Video and Audio. This class involves reading Beckett’s stories and novels and also watching and listening to Beckett’s plays and other dramatic works. A great deal of his work is available for watching and listening. You will find a full listing of these links below.

Favorite Passages Always come to class with a favorite passage of a paragraph or two drawn from that session’s assigned reading. Be prepared to read the passage out loud and say a few words about why you chose it.

Writing Two papers are required in this class, a short creative paper or story of four pages and a longer analytic paper of eight pages. The four-page paper is due March 17. The eight-page paper is due May 8.

To bolster the clarity and vigor of your prose, I strongly suggest studying two works: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language,” which can be readily found on the web, and Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style.

Class Presentation Every student will be required to put on a class presentation in collaboration with one or two other students. The presentations should last ten to fifteen minutes and take up some subject ancillary to the class, having to do with Beckett, his development, his life, his era, writers he’s influenced, performance of his plays, his politics, among other things. It is possible, with approval, to perform selections from Beckett’s work. The presentation can also take up any of the other writers we will discuss. Use of images, recordings and video is strongly encouraged.

Office Hours I will want to meet individually with each of you at least once during the semester. I will be holding office hours Friday mornings, normally between ten and twelve. We will begin to schedule these a few weeks into the semester. You are welcome to come talk to me about the class, the reading or anything else of interest. Meeting ID: 950 2931 1493

Finally my writing, speaking and syllabi for past courses can be found on my website, 

Grading Students will be graded on their preparedness and their participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their written work, roughly as follows.

Attendance        25 percent

Participation      25 percent

Writing                25 percent

Presentation       25 percent 


Required Texts

Samuel Beckett, The Complete Dramatic Works (Faber, 2006)

Samuel Beckett, The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (Grove, 1995)

Samuel Beckett, Murphy (Grove, 2011 [1938])

Samuel Beckett, Watt (Grove, 2009 [1953])

Samuel Beckett, Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Grove, 2009 [1951, ‘53])

Samuel Beckett, How It Is (Grove, 1994 [1964])

Samuel Beckett, Nohow On (Grove, 1995 [1980, ’81, ‘83])


Useful Secondary Texts

Ackerley and Gontarski, The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett (Grove, 2004) 

Ruby Cohn, A Beckett Canon (U of Michigan, 2001)

Hugh Kenner, A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett (Noonday, 1973)

James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (Bloomsbury, 1996)

Film, Video and Audio

You will find an extensive list of Beckett film, video and audio links after the Tentative Syllabus below, followed by a full list of Beckett’s works and a chronology of his life.


Tentative Syllabus

January 18, 2021 – Introduction to Course. Apocalypse. Cartesian Dualism. Beckett’s words. Where He Came From. Modernism and Postmodernism. Reading Beckett’s Novels. The shrinking vision. Watching and Listening to Beckett. What We’re Reading. On the plan of the course. Primary and secondary sources. How to read. Writing assignments. Presentations. How to Succeed in this Course. 

                 Watch: Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (Lindsay-Hogg, link below)


January 20 – Read: Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot from The Complete Dramatic Works (Faber, 2006)

                        Read: “A Beckett Chronology” (page 23, below)

                       Watch: Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (Second Act)

Notes on Class (by course assistant Shelby Rew) —

  • Waiting for Godot was originally published in French
    • Beckett wrote it in 4 months at 43 years old… basically wrote it in a first draft
    • was an unknown playwright and basically a failure
  • “the siege in the room” is what Beckett called the period he was going through in his writing process when he wrote Murphy and Malone Dies
    • took a break to write WFG
  • Beckett at first couldn’t get published because of 1) his writing style and 2) he didn’t try hard enough
  • WFG was published because his wife, Suzanne, took it to various theaters leaving it on steps to be published
  • Early crowds reacted badly to WFG but it then became an enormous phenomenon, making Beckett a world-wide star of avant-garde
  • Beckett thought of himself as prose writer first not a playwright
  • WFG relies on repetition and symmetry
    • structure of both acts unfold in same way
    • a kind of musical structure
  • famous critic once said something along the lines of WFG being a phenomenal work of Becketts where he “writes a play in which nothing happens twice”
  • Big question of play: Who is Godot? What does it mean?
    • to look through play to something else you must first see it for what it is
  • Big occupation of play is suicide
    • existentialism
    • cited as possible solution but they fail at it
  • Beckett hated the question of “Is Godot God?” it is not God he insists
    • Nonetheless there is a lot of religion in the play
  • Play is full of paradoxes
  • Much of the play has to do with the body
    • many references to pain
  • Strong evocation of Laurel and Hardy in Vladimir and Estragon
  • Lack of action makes this anti-traditional theater
  • Was a huge success at San Quentin because prisoners could understand the literality
  • Called a tragi-comedy but unlike most tragi-comedies we do not look down at it from above
    • play is revolutionary in that sense
  • Beckett was a literalist
    • didn’t want his work to be interpreted
    • “I wrote it this way, do it this way”


January 25 –   Read: Samuel Beckett, “Dante and the Lobster”  


                         Recommended:  Samuel Beckett, “Sedendo et Quiescendo,” from   

                                              The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (Grove, 1995)  

                         Read: James Joyce, “Ithaca,” from Ulysses (just beginning)


                                      James Joyce, Finnegans Wake Anna Livia (beginning)


                          Listen: Joyce Reading from Finnegans Wake.     


                                       Another “Anna Livia Plurabelle”:      


                          Read: Samuel Beckett, Murphy (Grove, 2011 [1938]), Chapter 1 

                          Listen: Murphy (beginning) (link below)

                          Recommended: “Notes to Murphy” (see links below)


Notes on class —

  • Postmodernist literature brought about upending of old traditions
  • Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce was a vast masterpiece
    • “night time language of dreams”
    • no clear plot
    • very slow going
    • Beckett transcribed some of this work because Joyce was going blind
    • Beckett wrote a defense of Work in Progress aka Finnegan’s Wake
  • Dante and the Lobster is highly allusive 
    • a lot of things you have to look up
    • Belacqua = character in Dante’s purgatory 
    • story is basically a joke about purgatory
  • Beckett incredibly meticulous
    • extremely interested in math
  • In Murphy opening chapter mentions 7 scarves but only shows 6
    • perhaps a joke of Beckett’s signaling the fictional world is not the same as the material world
    • “this is not your world and I will not be bound by the rules of realistic fiction”
  • Beckett is confusing and sometimes purposefully so
  • Beckett’s characters don’t care about the “great world” they exist in the world of perception
  • Dualism within Beckett
    • body/mind dualism
    • how do we know what is outside of us is real?
  • Beckett would not have his picture taken or do interviews
    • he was a mystery and that is partly what brought him so much fame
  • WFG exhibits back and forth, quick, humorous dialogue 
  • Don’t look through Beckett’s work for some ultimate meaning without reading it for what it is first
  • Culture and time is emptied in WFG
    • to fill up time we create hierarchies that are arbitrary (Pozzo and Lucky)
  • Lucky’s speech is a parody of how man tries to make meaning… it means nothing
  • Parodying of social customs in WFG
  • Mis-en-scene very much existentialist 
    • existence precedes essence
  • Beckett does not share belief that existentialism grants some radical freedom
    • all we can do is keep waiting                         


January 27 –    Read: Samuel Beckett, Murphy (Grove, 2011 [1938])

                          Listen: Murphy (Murphy’s lunch) (link below)

                          Recommended: “Notes to Murphy” (see links below)                                          

Notes on class — 

  • Best way to really “absorb” Beckett’s plays is to watch (fully) then read
  • Symmetry important to Beckett as a calculous of meaning
  • Between acts 1 and 2 at least one night passes and also…
    • 1) Vladimir doesn’t have to get up in the night to urinate
    • 2) Estragon sleeps in a ditch and is beat up as he is every night
  • Beckett presents often in hi work the idea of body corruption
    • possibly linked to his personal bodily impairments/defects
  • Beckett’s female characters seem to be more practical
  • Beckett’s male characters seem to not want to do anything
    • Murphy is the epitome of this 
  • Murphy is a parody of a novel
  • Murphy’s incentive to get a job is so that he is not alone in the evening (B/c otherwise Celia works at night as a prostitute)
  • Murphy is very professorially connected to real things


February 1 –   Read: Samuel Beckett, Murphy (Grove, 2011 [1938])

                         Recommended: “Notes to Murphy” (see links below)

Notes on class–

  • Chronology of Beckett
    • born 1906 to wealthy family
    • WWI – 1914 – traumatizes and shocks the world
    • In the ’20s (1928) Beckett goes to Paris amidst the height of the modernist movement in literature and art by way of lecturer scholarship
    • During ’20s introduced to James Joyce (who in 1922 had published most prominent avant-garde work – Ulysses – and is now working on Work in Progress aka Finnegan’s Wake
      • Beckett helps Joyce transcribe Finnegan’s Wake
    • Murphy published in 1938 (written in 1934)
      • while writing Murphy Beckett is also engaged in being highly psychoanalyzed by a psychiatrist
      • physically and emotionally is not doing well
    • WWII – 1939 – doubles the shock
      • Watt written during war while hiding from nazis 
    • 1946-1949 : period of the “siege in the room” for Beckett
      • must keep writing and is writing the works that will change his life/career
      • 1946 – the revelation 
        • cuts to the level of consciousness 
        • all the things he was trying to suppress he realizes he must embrace/reveal in his work
    • 1949 Beckett can’t stand the siege in the room anymore and writes WFG
      • at 41 he is basically a failure but continues to write anyway
    • Beckett’s wife Suzanne gets WFG published in 1953 and from this Beckett gains fame
      • 1953 – writes Texts for Nothing
    • 1969 – Beckett wins Nobel Peace Prize in literature
      • this disrupts his private life
    • 1989 both Beckett and wife Suzanne die in the same year
  • Beckett’s early work highly influenced by Joyce
    • allusive – a lot of allusions to other works/ things
    • literature for the well learned 
    • attention to the body (at the time this was scandalous)
    • low humored
    • abandonment of old literary traditions 
    • explore uncharted territory in their work, taking elements of traditional fiction and playing with them to draw attention to these techniques
  • Murphy is a protagonist who does nothing
    • whole period in Beckett’s writing career where his characters do nothing
  • Celia: only “real” character in Murphy
    • only one to follow conventions therefore having attachment to the “great world” as opposed to “small world” that happens in your head
      • often where Beckett’s characters are
    • her being a prostitute is treated as completely unremarkable
      • traditional moral conventions do not exist in Beckett’s work
  • Defamiliarization in Beckett’s work
    • coined by Shlovsky
    • describes daily business of life as if we don’t know what it is
    • e.g refers to apartments as “medium-sized cages”
  • Critiques of Beckett as cartesian 
  • The plot of Murphy is absurd; don’t try to figure it out
    • driven almost entirely by sex/desire
    • basically a parody of books like Pride and Prejudice


February 3 –   Read: Samuel Beckett, Watt (Grove, 2009 [1953])

                          Listen: Beckett reads Watt (link below)

Notes on class —

  •  Beckett’s writing progressed to narrowing in on the “small world”
  • Post-war emergence of existentialism 
    • Sartre, Camus
    • freeing of man and humanity
  • Big question of the course: What do “skullscapes” that Beckett perfected have to do with modernism?
  • Murphy characters
    • Murphy – means morph/form; murphy is focused on formation of his mind, wishes to live happily in the “small world” of his mind; is torn between Celia and Endon
    • Celia – derives from Silya meaning heavenly; she desires a heavenly life (love and stability with Murphy)
    • Neary and Wiley – near and while
    • all characters (except Celia and Murphy) motivated by desire
  • Murphy and Endon’s chess game
    • not much happens they are just making moves back and forth
    • Murphy attempts to mimic Endon’s moves
    • Why is this the climax?
      • parody of a traditional climax; all about non-engagement just like the novel
      • if Murphy’s quest is to live in the “small world” then this game represents the quest and his inability to accomplish it 
  • Most of Beckett’s characters the body drags them down
  • “Great world” a system where you are basically made into either a slave of the system or a slave to your body
  • Very vulgar references in Beckett’s work
  • Beckett’s interest in vanquishing the will


February 8 –    Read: Samuel Beckett, Watt (Grove, 2009 [1953])

               Watch: “Beginning to End,” Jack MacGowran (link below)

Notes on class–

  • Andrea and Roxana Presentation (Beckett: The War Years)
    • Beckett goes to France in 1939
    • Death of Joyce in 1941
    • Paris during war: squalor, food scarcity (turnips and carrots from WFG
      • sparks of creativity from Beckett
    • Beckett’s good friend (Peron) is captured and killed in concentration camp
    • Beckett joins French Resistance in 1941
      • horrified by the rise of fascism
      • Terry Eagleton: “one of the twentieth century’s most apparently non-political artists secretly took up arms against fascism”
      • run by “Gloria”
      • Beckett’s role in resistance: translating and noting down German military activity in France
    • Beckett narrowly misses being captured by the Gestapo in 1942
    • Beckett is hiding in Rousillon (1942-1945)
      • moved into hotel where in first two weeks has mental break down
    • From 1941-1945 Beckett is writing Watt over a course of 6 notebooks
      • Watt as an exercise in therapy/empathy perhaps?
      • William S Burroughs said “Beckett is perhaps the purest writer… nothing there but the words themselves”
  • Beckett called Watt a flawed and unsatisfactory book but referred to it as his way of keeping sane throughout war
  • Olympia Press (famous for publishing pornographic books) published Watt 
  • Original name of Watt (book and character) was Quin as in Qui ne meaning that by it not
    • Watt = what
    • Knott = not
    • thus, “what not”
  • Watt as a mentally ill person who desperately tries to prove things are in the world through a method of knowledge because of skepticism
  • Descartes began his philosophy through skepticism and Beckett is often considered a Cartesian
    • problem of skepticism is the worry of how do we know we aren’t in a simulation?
  • Watt is concerned with rationalism
    • long, essentially parodies, of the logical method
  • Or Watt could be considered Beckett’s own parody through Watt of skepticism
  • Obsessiveness with patterns in Beckett’s language
  • Beckett’s early work was high-modernist and his later work post-modernist
  • Structure of logic and play of sound become obsessive game throughout novel
  • “What’s going to happen?” is not the point of Watt
    • Beckett is not concerned with plot
    • work is dense but doesn’t necessarily have depth
    • don’t take things in his novel so seriously
  • Dog section of Watt a parody of determining the existence of God
  • Doubt about reality and objects around us in Watt 
    • “the uncanny valley” 


February 10 –   Read: “First Love” and “The Expelled” from Samuel Beckett, 

                                        The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (Grove, 1995)

Notes on Class– 



February 15 – Read: “The Calmative” and “The End” from Samuel Beckett, The 

                      Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (Grove, 1995)

 Notes on Class —

  • Beckett psychoanalyzed by Bion in the 1930s for a couple of years
  • Beckett goes to Jung’s “Tavistock” lecture where Jung discusses a patient who was convinced she had never been born or at least not fully born
    • made a big impression on Beckett and he essentially adapted it to himself
  • Beckett escaped himself through writing in French
    • said it was “easier to write without style” in French
  • 4 stories from this week (“First Love”, “The Expelled”, “The Calmative”, and “The End” are the first of Beckett’s that he wrote in French (1946) 
    • often referred to as a premonition of “The Trilogy”
  • Very dramatic shift to the first-person in these four stories 
    • getting Beckett’s unique voice 
    • much more relaxed syntax via first-person ease
    • confessional monologue
    • self-conscious when it comes to telling the story ( a writer conscious of being a writer)
  • Characters of these stories follow the Beckettesque in that they are very elemental 
    • focus on the body, especially bodily defects 
    • a lot of disgust 
  • “First Love” a romance but not exactly romantic
    • begins with death and ends with birth
  • Women in Beckett’s books only focus on birth/conception
    • don’t think of as sexist but as philosophical
  • Beckett’s characters rarely act
  • All four of these Beckett short stories concerned with death and birth
  • “First Love” among other things is about fatherhood and the choices he didn’t make.
    • nobody chooses to be born but we are all born into this elemental world… and it is suffering
    • struggle to live as a non-being but also being tempted by the material world
  • Paradox: Beckett is a very prolific writer but he is not a philosopher as much as his work may lead us to view him this way… he is a fiction writer
  • Beckett’s work has the dangerous capacity to draw us into his pessimism


February 17 – Read: “Texts for Nothing” from Samuel Beckett, The Complete 

                                      Short Prose, 1929-1989 (Grove, 1995)

                          Watch: “Texts for Nothing” (links below)

Notes on Class — 

  • “Three Novels” major contribution to fiction in both French and English
  • 1989 (Beckett’s death) and also first chance for the world to deal with climate change fails
    • symbolic of the post-catastrophe Beckett was writing of during his “siege in the room” potentially another life-altering stage in humanities progression
  • Beckett’s “siege in the room” trying to figure out what went wrong in the world
  • How do we describe this typical Beckett character we see again in the 4 short stories?
    • bodily maladies
    • vagabond
    • expelled
    • disgust
    • seekers
    • on quest
    • preoccupation with birth and knowing and with parents 
    • spavined walk
  • Post-cartesian: how do we know this is real? “I think, therefore, I am” … all of Beckett’s characters want to do nothing but think. They are disgusted by the physical material world.
  • Beckett trying to show in his work that there is something wrong with the post-cartesian man 
    • descent of the soul
  • “Beckett and Joyce” presentation by Aaron and Izayah
    • Beckett introduced to Joyce by Tom MacGreedy
    • Beckett agrees to help do research for a going blind Joyce’s “Work in Progress” later “Finnegan’s Wake”
    • The two grew close and Beckett began adopting mannerisms and imitating Joyce, even trying to squeeze into his shoe size
    • Joyce’s piece on “Work in Progress” titled “Dante…Bruno. Vico…Joyce” was published by transition in 1929
    • Beckett wanted to be seen as a son by Joyce but to Joyce was just hardly a friend even for some time and mostly just as an assistant
    • Beckett and Joyce nonetheless shared many similarities including many superstitions
    • Both writers have works filled with allusions 
    • Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, was a troubled girl who had feelings for Beckett which he did not return
    • Under pressure from his wife Nora, Joyce exiles Beckett from his home and company for “leading Lucia on”
    • Lucia eventually ends up in a mental institution and Beckett and Joyce’s relationship is mended in 1940
    • Joyce dies in 1941
    • Similarities between Joyce and Beckett:
      • both prone to long silences catalyzed by sadness
      • both did not find themselves bound to social niceties
      • emulation seeped into Beckett’s writing
      • both allusive
      • Joyce’s work more intrinsically Irish 
      • both speak to the void


February 22 – Read: Samuel Beckett, Molloy from Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Grove, 2009 [1951, ‘53])

                          Listen: Molloy (links below)

Notes on class — 

  • 4 page paper due 3/17 – “creative writing” piece, write in the style/essence of Beckett
  • Beckett compared artistic process to the peeling of an onion but in his version, you never got to the center
  • Beckett trying to reconstitute the literary project
  • Beckett literary works timeline:
    • Parodic, satiric period
      • Pricks (1934)
      • Murphy (1938)
      • Watt (1945)
    • “Siege in the room” the disordered, isolated, monologue phase
      • The four short stories “The Calmative” “The End” etc. (around 1946ish)
      • Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (1946-49)
    • Skullscapes period – dramaticules, metamorphical, creation of alternate worlds
      • How It Is
      • All Strange Away
      • Stirrings Still
  • Molloy “the stucking stones” scene
    • monologic voice 
    • obsessive use of reason in an attempt to get ahold of world in some way
  • Uses math to always be certain
    • math is the calming element for someone who obsesses about the world (a priori)
  • Molloy is questing his mother and Moran is questing Molloy
  • How do we know Moran and Molloy are not the same person? Answer: We don’t
  • Quests are not satisfied but Molloy in a sense replaces his mother
  • Moran undergoes a transformation and becomes very much like Molloy, perhaps is Molloy?
  • Molloy as a detective novel or rather a parody of one
  • Elements in Moran part we can call picaresque
  • Similarities b/t Moran and Molloy
    • names somewhat similar
    • length of parts in book exactly same amount of pages
    • the protagonists write; this novel (among other things) is about the writing of itself
    • addressing at the beginning where the story came from
  • Anxiety induced by lack of paragraph breaks
    • feels like we can’t breath or can’t blink 
  • Parallels b/t:
    • “The Expelled” and Molloy
    • “The Calmative” and Malone Dies
    • “The End” and The Unnamable


February 24 – Read: Samuel Beckett, Molloy from Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Grove, 2009 [1951, ‘53])

Notes on class — 

  • In “seige in the room” Beckett is going to go into the darkness of his own mind, burrowing into it and confronting it
  • Knowing more is a way to control the world and Beckett rejects this by displaying man as a non-knower
  • Who are these characters (Molloy, Moran) and how are we supposed to take them?
  • Narrator is a stranger in his own skin (Molloy)
  • Conflict b/t one’s primal instinct for self-preservation and the equal instinct for oblivion
  • Revisitation of self (try to feel the struggle the writer is in)
  • Beckett has grabbed onto something different in this new phase of texts
  • How are we supposed to read this stuff?
    • clearly using forms we are aware of but distorting them?
  • Exploring his darkness by writing these very similar characters but making little changes/differences in each one
    • evolution toward dissolution? similar to Moran’s path
  • Beckett wrote WFG to take time off from “the awful prose he was writing [the trilogy]” (qt. from Beckett)
    • yet, there was something fulfilling and complete in writing these characters that are a means of expressing his own darkness
  • Beckett is a complicated artist for someone who essentially keeps saying the same thing
  • Quest narrative is about finding something in the future yet Molloy still seems narrowly focused at all times
  • Oedipus complex flowing through Molloy… the whole “motor” of the story and eventually takes his mothers place
    • mother thinks Molloy is the father
    • Beckett himself had a very fraught relationship with his mother
  • Why do all these Beckett characters seem to be octogenarians that are failing?
    • part of peeling the onion?
  • “libido” and “death-drive” two other freudian concepts present in Molloy
  • Failure to express and obligation to express
  • Hypnotic elements in Beckett’s prose


March 1 – Read: Samuel Beckett, Molloy from Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Grove, 2009 [1951, ‘53])

Notes on class —

  • Beckett plays start to be written after “Three Novels..” 
    • part of “skullscapes”
  • Beckett writing a group of works “Three Novels…” that will all eventually relate to one another 
  • Relationship b/t Molloy and Moran
    • Are they the same person? Some theorize this.
    • both narratives are circular, but Moran’s calls attention to the fictionality of itself in the last few sentences
    • both a man in a room writing a report; their own “siege in the room”
    • narratives in a decline/deterioration 
    • bad teeth and wear hats
    • Molloy may have a son, Moran has a son
    • both have/need a bicycle, walking stick, and knife
    • both assault a man
    • both narratives feature a traditionally climatic event that hardly get any attention/mention in the novel for how great of events they are
    • Another theory: not that Moran necessarily becomes Molloy but more that Molloy was always part of Moran; fiction of Molloy as Moran encountering Molloy
  • No question that we are being lured into the relationship between the two (Molloy and Moran)
  • A lot of objects in Beckett’s works that seem like symbols or at least they lure us to see them as symbols 
    • bicycle
    • stones (sucking stones)
    • great coat, hat, boots
    • sheep and Shepard
    • walking stick/crutches
    • silver item that Molloy doesn’t know name of (knife holder)
    • these objects are non-sequitur: Beckett will make a lot out of various objects but they are not actually symbolic
      • last words of Watt “No symbols where none intended”
      • not supposed to be uncovering meaning but just focusing on what words actually say
      • don’t fall for the lures the objects Beckett presents set up for us by trying to uncover what they might mean or at least don’t think so hard about it because it may mean nothing
  • Traditionally stories should only include details that mean something, but Beckett does not follow this rule
  • Lyricism of Beckett’s writing exemplifies Beckett’s method of “finding a form to contain the mess”
  • Oedipal dynamics that are very hard to ignore in “Three Novels…”
    • relationships between parent and child in Beckett tend to be very harsh

March 3 – Read: Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies from Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Grove, 2009 [1951, ‘53])

                   Listen: Cyril Cusack reads the Trilogy (link below)

Notes on Class — 

  • Beckett hated when people referred to “Three Novels:…” as “the trilogy”
    • Perhaps because he didn’t want people to think of them all as one story
    • Major question of “3 Novels” is how they all relate
    • Books, in a sense, want to be problematized and “trilogy” makes this to easy of a problem to solve
  • In Beckett’s “siege in the room” Beckett writes three novels about sieges in the room
  • Relations b/t various stories are becoming tighter/ collapsing into one another
  • A lot of morbid joking going on that is easy to miss
  • All of these personae (Molloy, Moran, Murphy, Malone, etc.) seem to be looming closer to Beckett
    • Writer is describing all these writers
  • Beckett is using his work to make sense of something that is not making sense – his own reality (?)
  • “Three Novels” is obsessed with death as many of Beckett’s novels are
  • Idea of birth and death being the same thing in that they deliver one into different planes of existence
  • In “Malone Dies” the “enclosure” is getting smaller
    • Lying in bed writing; mobility is lessened
    • Telling himself stories to… pass the time (?) or model of what an artist does before they die (?)
    • We are made to concentrate on dying but really it is about the last days of creating 
  • Beckett’s characters were not born the way they are but rather fell into it

March 8 – Read: Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies from Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Grove, 2009 [1951, ‘53])

 Notes on Class — 

  • In “Malone Dies” we see the idea of escape from tedium of writing of what the narrator writes
    • Malone is pondering what stories he will tell while he dies
    • Emphasis on writing your stories while you wait to die
  • Write, create, play
    • Joining idea of writing (including playwriting) to idea of play
  • Countdown to end of book pages; trying to cram all these stories into pages he has left
  • Pulled back and forth between creation/tedium and disgust
  • “Ping” like Beckett’s work we are reading now gets more and more constricted as it progresses.


March 10 – Read: Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable from Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Grove, 2009 [1951, ‘53])

                      Listen: The Unnamable (links below)

 Notes on Class —

  • Beckett is a very self-conscious artist 
  • What is he driving toward in his project? (of his life’s work not any individual work)
  • Question presenting itself to Beckett at the end of “The Unnamable”: How will he go on?
  • Nihil in intellectu quod non prius fuerat inn sensu: there is nothing in the mind that does not come from the senses
    • Problem with this: is there anything to the world beyond what we can see/touch?
    • Is there some pre-existing being and if so can we find it through art?
  • Beckett exhibits a mocking attitude toward the word, through words
  • Beckett thinks he is punching through language to get to reality
  • Picasso in his cubist work creates an image but is also practicing a critique of the history of painting 
    • Beckett doing same thing but with writing
  • Beckett seems to be chasing the “senseless void”
  • Beckett greatly evokes (and was obsessed with) Descartes and Dante 

March 15 – Read: Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable from Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable (Grove, 2009 [1951, ‘53])

Notes on class —

  • “Three Novels” all have same/similar plots
    • deep narratives
    • death
    • monologues
    • degenerative
    • quest narratives
  • Molloy quests for his mother but finds only her room
  • Malone quests for death and finds it
  • The Unnamable searches for silence and does not find it
  • Fusion of the author in the book in “The Unnamable”
  • Death of the writer in “Malone Dies” and “The Unnamable” isolates the narrator from the undying self
  • Art as excavatory
  • Words becoming much more abstract entities 
    • words cannot be abstract in the way a painting or musical note can be
    • they have denotation and connotation
  • Beckett is taking apart the history of western narrative

March 17 – Read: “Texts for Nothing” and “From an Abandoned Work” from Samuel Beckett, The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (Grove, 1995)

                     Listen: “From an Abandoned Work” (Jack Emery, links below)

   Notes on class —

  • Read “The Unnamable” as the voice of a narrator being born into a novel
    • “they” in a sense stand in for the author
  • Instability of pronouns in “The Unnamable” allows for narrator to take on authorial role
  • Narrative function has been reduced to a voice 
    • don’t know if there is even a body
  • Summary: consciousness in search of self, language itself is put in question
  • Language as separate rebarbative force 
    • you push back on it
  • Saussure’s idea of signifier/signified
  • Self-referentiality: calling attention to fact that he can make things happen as the author that can’t actually happen in reality
  • “The Unnamable” is like a third lap in the three novels but also a destination of the three novels
    • would be a very different novel if it didn’t have the two before it
  • A lot of reflection on color in “The Unnamable”
  • Over-determined book (more than one meaning)
    • impossible to determine a single way to read this book
  • What is seeking silence?
    • compulsion to create?
  • Beckett condemned never to reach successfully creating the “perfect” novel and early on he knows it
  • Beckett searching for “literature of the unword” so that the “silence of the real will be felt”


     **Four-page Creative Paper Due. (Sunday, March 20)

March 22 & 24 – SPRING BREAK

March 29 –  Watch: Samuel Beckett, Endgame (Michael Gambon, link below)

                                    Samuel Beckett, Acts Without Words I & II (links below)

                       Read: Endgame and Acts Without Words from Samuel Beckett, The Complete Dramatic Works (Faber, 2006)

Notes on class — 

  • Existentialism: not so bad that God is dead b/c we as humans can be free from the supernatural force that limits us
    • doesn’t work for Beckett b/c his characters are not free to make a better place for themselves (with or without God)
    • doesn’t alter bare realities of life
  • Life as endurance; Endgame as disintegration of endurance
  • Endgame written in 1957
  • Many short dramatic works of Beckett done at request
  • Chess game interpretation of Endgame is just one of many interpretations 


March 31 –  Watch: Samuel Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape (Magee, link below)

                       Read:  Samuel Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape from Samuel Beckett,        

                                    The Complete Dramatic Works (Faber, 2006)

                        Watch: Rough for Theatre I & II, Embers (Links below)

Notes on class — 

  • Endgame features
    • repetitions
    • revelations
    • end of world
    • emanations of religion
    • emanations of a play
  • In Endgame it seems same thing happens every day (Clov’s ritualistic routine in beginning) but today is different
    • different b/c the mother dies and the flea
  • Stage directions often extremely precise and also ironic
  • Play about a family and also relationships between family members
    • neurotic relationships
    • harsh, stripped to the bone conversations
  • Resonance to Godot
  • Play bears power to an uncomfortable degree
    • Hamm holds power over his parents and his servant/son
  • Hamm, like many of Beckett’s other protagonists, is a writer who needs an audience
  • Theme of power v. compassion
    • Hamm has all the power and makes others suffer with it
  • Hamm’s monologue/story is sort of a parable (full of lessons that have to be interpreted)
    • a story about generosity or lack thereof(?)
    • more importantly, a story about power and Hamm revels in it


April 5 –    Read: Samuel Beckett, “All Strange Away” and “Imagination Dead Imagine” from Samuel Beckett, The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (Grove, 1995)

                     Read: Samuel Beckett, How It Is (Grove, 1994 [1964])

                  Watch: “Not I” (Whitelaw), “Film” and “Happy Days”

Notes on class–

  • Endgame by Beckett
    • Arbitrary weather on Christmas Eve
      • It either happened on Christmas Eve or Hamm just chose this date 
      • Christmas is about generosity (Salvation Army; giving alms) 
      • On Christmas was the birth of Christ 
    • Walking around town 
    • Man prostrates himself on ground in front of Hamm
    • Man came from 3 days away on journey, left little boy, came to search for bread to save his “brat”
    • Constantly interrupts himself to give critical commentary; self-praise 
    • Hamm is a writer; engaging in process of composition in front of us
    • Post-apocalyptic landscape; Hamm surprised to find people alive
    • We can’t be sure if story is true 
    • Dissonance between state of world in the play and the story
    • Putting up holly in story 
      • There is no holly; holly is dead
    • Clov brought to room before he could remember
      • Perhaps he is the child of the man 
    • An anti-Christmas story: Hamm is dominant
      • Hamm turns down man asking for bread/corn
      • Giving man corn for son would be cruel because it doesn’t do away with cruel world
      • Imagining of power 
      • Connection to Pozzo and Lucky in Waiting for Godot
      • Enjoying power to refuse 
    • Birds → connection to Noah’s dove coming back with branch (which means there is land) 
    • Loss of mobility 
    • Business on stage critical to Beckett’s vision 
    • Removing actor from setting
    • Absurdity; place where actors can’t live in 
    • Related to terror of 40s
    • Defines theatrical space as space of mind; anti-realism 
    • We don’t have the freedom Sartre is pointing to
    • Hamm writing a novel/monologue day by day 
    • Built around a day that repeats
    • Part of this day is telling of Hamm’s story
    • Hamm’s father is his audience
    • Hamm’s story (Pg 116-117) 
    • Things that remain alive: Flea, rat, searching for birds
    • Nag and Nell in trash cans
    • Sartre as existentialist believed death of G-d was liberating 
    • Beckett has much darker view of humanity


April 7 –    Read: Samuel Beckett, How It Is (Grove, 1994 [1964])

                   Watch: “Play,” “Cascando,” “Words & Music”

Notes on Class —



April 12 –  Read: Samuel Beckett, “Ping,” “Lessness” and “The Lost Ones,”   from Samuel Beckett, The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (Grove, 1995)

                     Listen: “Ping,” “Lessness,” and “Eh Joe”

Notes on Class–

  • Beckett liked the voice of the actor in Krapp’s Last Tape and wanted to write something specifically for him
  • Krapp’s Last Tape technically has four different voices but all the same actor/character 
  • Play is set “sometime in the future” because the tape recorder had just been invented and in the play, we see tapes that were supposed to have been recorded several years before
    • K69 -> K39 -> K29(27) -> young whelp
    • allows Beckett to create a palimpsest
    • strange telescoping effect
    • a view of different P.O.V’s
    • shows the distortion of memory over time
    • things he refers to as unforgettable we see him forgetting
  • Resolutions stated throughout the play
    • lessen drinking (K39/K29)
    • less engrossing sex life (K39) … still engrossing
    • create magnum opus (K39) … has not done so 


April 14 – Read: “Company” from Samuel Beckett, Nohow On (Grove, 1995 [1980, ’81, ‘83])

                      Watch: “Rockaby,” “That Time,” “Ghost Trio” (Links below)

Notes on Class — 

  • Beckett wanted characters in Play to be “interrogated with light” thus the spotlights on their faces when the characters speak (in the play version)
  • Beckett was also very specific about the urns in Play
  • Mise en scene – direction of the play… everything but the words
    • critical in Play, Happy Days, Krapp’s Last Tape, and in Pinter’s Betrayal
    • mise en scene in these cases is inseparable from the work itself 
    • not just decorations surrounding words…very important to the meaning of the work
  • Beckett wanted rapid, monotonal delivery in Play
    • less about the words and more about what you are seeing
  • Seems as if Play is taking place post-mortem
  • The intro monologue of the man reinforces the idea that they are in the afterlife
    • man seems more aware of this but the women less so
  • Beckett did not want the words to be intelligible
  • Play as a classic story of betrayal -> banality
    • we can hear it is a banal story even without all the details 
  • Why is it called Play?
    • first, it is a play in the sense of the theatre -> literary object
    • also… play as a thing you do
  • Something about guilt and shame going on in Play but also seems that perhaps Beckett is saying “it’s not that serious”


April 19 – Read: “Ill Seen, Ill Said” from Samuel Beckett, Nohow On (Grove, 1995 [1980, ’81, ‘83])

                  Watch: “…but the clouds,” “A Piece of Monologue,” “Ohio Impromptu”

Notes on Class — 

  • Mise-en-scene can be a very large part of Beckett’s plays, often prologuing the actual text
    • think of “Happy Days”
  • Beckett’s plays are often enormous challenges for actors
    • Jessica Tandy said it was impossible to read the script for “Not I” at the speed Beckett wanted, saying it was “unintelligible” to which Beckett responded “I’m not unduly concerned with intelligibility. 
  • In Betrayal the fact of the betrayal is in a funny way trivial but instead, it is about the consequences of the betrayal
  • First betrayal we see is Robert’s betrayal of Jerry by not telling him that he had already found out about Jerry’s affair with Emma four years before 
  • Betrayal of the affair breeds more betrayals between all three parties involved
  • Difference between Pinter’s Betrayal and Beckett’s work is that with Pinter we can understand what is happening
  • Robert betrays Jerry by keeping the secret that he knows about the affair 
    • holds power now because he and Emma know something that Jerry does not… humiliating when years later Jerry finds out that Robert already knows 
  • Complexities of the betrayal made explicit through the mise-en-scene (backward telling of the story) in the play
  • Reverse produces gaps in the story and increases suspense 
    • gaps as an invitation to close reading


April 21 – Read: “Worstward Ho” from Samuel Beckett, Nohow On (Grove, 1995 [1980, ’81, ‘83])

                   Watch: “Worstward Ho,” “Catastrophe,” “Nacht und Traume” (links below)

Class Cancelled – No Notes


April 26 – Read: “neither” and “Stirrings Still” from Samuel Beckett, The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (Grove, 1995)

                   Watch: “neither,” “What Where,” “Stirrings Still” (links below)

                    Listen: Neither (links below)

Notes on Class — 

  • Beckett as an artist hated that he had to use the materials of language
    • Beckett wanted the freedom that other artists (i.e. painters) can exercise through their craft
  • Beat in Lessness that is very single syllable and occasionally two-syllable
  • Lessness and Ping very similar
    • similar enclosure of the texts
  • How did Beckett write Lessness?
    • he put together 6 different word categories and made 60 sentences with 769 words and did it twice
    • essentially randomly put these together by pulling from a hat
    • Aleatoricism: use of luck/randomness/chance in a work of art
    • paragraphs put together basically by chance
    • some of it is chance and some of it isn’t
  • Beckett is showing readers what is not a necessity in writing… what can be taken away


April 28 – Watch: Waiting for Godot (links below)


     Notes on Class —

  • Beckett constantly trying out new ways to represent reality 
  • “Beckett’s fictions are the progressive record of his fight to subdue language, so the silence of the real might make its presence felt” – Brian Finney
  • Art is a portal through which we attempt to understand our reality 
    • “Strange Tools” by Alva Noe
  • What does it mean to actually get to the heart of things? Beckett shows us


May 8 — Eight-page Analytic Paper Due.


Beckett Video, Film and Audio

Echo’s Bones (1933)

Murphy (1938) (Links to an external site.)  Fionnula Flanagan (full text)


Murphy’s Lunch

Notes to Murphy (Links to an external site.)


Watt (1945 [1953])

Beckett reading

Jack Emery

Beckett reading


Molloy (1951) (Links to an external site.)   Sean Barrett (full text)

Cyril Cusack (from the Trilogy)

Jack MacGowran, The Sucking Stones


Waiting for Godot (1949 [1953]     Alan Schneider.

Michael Lindsey-Hogg.

San Quentin Workshop (Links to an external site.)   Bert Lahr (full text, audio)


The Unnamable (1953)


Texts for Nothing (1950-52)

Text for Nothing 1

Text For Nothing from Arturo Vidich on Vimeo.

Texts for Nothing 4

Texts for Nothing 5

Texts for Nothing 8 (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

Texts for Nothing 12


From an Abandoned Work (1954-55)

ONE.  Jack Emery






Act Without Words, 1 (1956)


All That Fall (1956) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)



Embers (1957) (Links to an external site.)

https://www (Links to an external site.)

https://www (Links to an external site.)


Endgame (1957) (Links to an external site.)        Michael Gambon. (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

Rough for Theater 1 (1959/60)

https://www (Links to an external site.)


Rough for Theater II (1959/60)

https://www (Links to an external site.)



Rough for Theater 1 / Rockaby / Act w/o Words ii / Neither / Come & Go (1959/60) (Links to an external site.)  Five Short Plays

Fizzles (1960) (Links to an external site.)


Rough for Radio 1 (1961)

https://www (Links to an external site.)

Rough for Radio II (1961)

https://www (Links to an external site.)


Happy Days (1961)

https://www (Links to an external site.)

https://www (Links to an external site.)

https://www (Links to an external site.)

Cascando (1961/62) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

https://www (Links to an external site.)

Words and Music (1961) (Links to an external site.)

https://www (Links to an external site.)


Play (1962-63) (Links to an external site.)    Anthony Minghella

https://www (Links to an external site.)

https://www (Links to an external site.)

Film (1963)

https://www (Links to an external site.)


Eh Joe (1965) (Links to an external site.)

https://www (Links to an external site.)

Come and Go (1965)

https://www (Links to an external site.)


Beginning to End (1965) (Links to an external site.)    Anthology, Jack MacGowran

  • A1From “Malonie Dies”
  • A2From “Watt”
  • A3From “An Abandoned Work”
  • B1From “Embers”
  • B2From “Molloy” (1)
  • B3From “Molloy” (2)
  • B4From “The Unnamable”
  • B5From “Endgame” (1)
  • B6From “Endgame” (2)
  • B7Echo’s Bones

Ping (1966)

https://www (Links to an external site.)

Lessness (1969)

https://www (Links to an external site.)


Breath (1969) (Links to an external site.)   Damien Hirst (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

Not I (1972) (Links to an external site.)    Billie Whitelaw

https://vimeo (Links to an external site.).com/28755467      Julianne Moore/ Neil Jordan

Fizzles (1973 -75) (Links to an external site.)

That Time (1974-75)

https://www (Links to an external site.)


Footfalls (1975)

https://www (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)

Ghost Trio (1975)

https://www (Links to an external site.)



Ghost Trio/ … but the Clouds (1975/ 1976)

https://www (Links to an external site.)


…but the Clouds (1976)


Neither (1977) (Links to an external site.)  Opera, w/Morton Feldman (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)


A Piece of Monologue (1977-79) (Links to an external site.)


Company (1979) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)


Rockaby (1980) (Links to an external site.)      Billie Whitelaw


Ill Seen Ill Said (1981) (Links to an external site.)


Ohio Impromptu (1981) (Links to an external site.)   Jeremy Irons


Quad (1981)

Catastrophe (1982) (Links to an external site.)

Nacht und Traume (1982) (Links to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)



Worstward Ho (1983) (Links to an external site.)



What Where (1983) (Links to an external site.)     FILM (Links to an external site.)     STAGE


Stirrings Still (1986-89)

A Wake for Samuel Beckett (Links to an external site.)   Classic Performances











Beckett’s Works 1934 – 1988

              The Second World War 1939 to 1945

                  *Waiting For Godot (Links to an external site.) 1953 Play

                Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature 1969







A Beckett Chronology*

*Drawn from James Knowlson’s Damned to Fame


13 April – Samuel Barclay Beckett born in ‘Cooldrinagh’, a house in Foxrock, a village south of Dublin (page 3), on Good Friday, the second child of William Beckett and May Beckett, née Roe. He has an older brother, Frank Edward, born 26 July 1902.


Beckett enters kindergarten at Ida and Pauline Elsner’s private academy in Leopardstown. The spinster sisters had a cook named Hannah and an Airedale terrier named Zulu, details which crop up in later novels (p.24).


Attends Earlsfort House School in Dublin (pages 30 to 35). Begins to excel at sports, for example, long distance running.


Follows his brother Frank to Portora Royal, an eminent Protestant boarding school in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, set in a strikingly beautiful location (pages 36 to 46). During his time there, Ireland was partitioned (1921) and Portora found itself in the new Northern Ireland. Beckett excelled at sports, in particular boxing, cross country running and swimming.


October – Enrols at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD) to study for an Arts degree (p.47). Here he is taken under the wing of the individualistic Professor of Romance Languages, Thomas Brown Rudmose-Brown who teaches him classical French and English literature, but also more recent authors. He also engages a private tutor, Bianca Esposito, who teaches him Italian, in particular they embark on detailed study of Dante (p.51). During his time as a student Beckett’s father bought him not one but two motorbikes, one of which, the AJS, he rode in competitive time trials (p.62). His father then bought him a sports car (p.49) a Swift (p.79) in which he managed to run over and kill his beloved Kerry Blue terrier dog (p.67).


August – First visit to France for a month-long cycling tour of the Loire Valley.


April to August – Travels through Florence and Venice, visiting museums, galleries and churches (pages 71 to 75).
December – Receives BA in Modern Languages (French and Italian) from TCD and graduates in the First Class.


January to June – Teaches French and English at Campbell College (a secondary school) in Belfast and really dislikes it. He finds Belfast cold and dreary after lively Dublin (pages 77 to 79).
September – First trip to Germany to visit seventeen-year-old Peggy Sinclair, a cousin on his father’s side, and her family in Kassel (p.82).
1 November – Arrives in Paris as an exchange lecteur at the École Normale Supérieure. Quickly becomes friends with his predecessor, Thomas McGreevy who introduces Beckett to James Joyce (pages 97 to 98 ) and other influential writers and publishers (pages 87 to 105).
December – Spends Christmas with the Sinclairs in Kassel (as also in 1929, 1930 and 1931). His relationship with Peggy develops into a fully sexual one, causing him anguish about the conflict (in his mind) between the idealised belovèd and the sexualised lover.


June – Publishes his first critical essay (Dante…Bruno…Vico…Joyce) and his first story (Assumption) in transition magazine. Makes several visits to Kassel to see Peggy.


July – Writes a 100-line poem Whoroscope in response to a poetry competition run by Nancy Cunard (pages 111 to 112).
October – Returns to TCD to begin a two-year appointment as lecturer in French. He hated it, discovering he was useless as a teacher and not cut out for academic life (pages 120 to 126)
November – MacGreevy introduces Beckett to the painter and writer Jack B.Yeats who becomes a lifelong friend (p.164).


March – Chatto and Windus publish Proust, a literary study they’d commissioned (pages 113 to 119).
September – First Irish publication, the poem Alba in Dublin Magazine. At Christmas goes to stay with the Sinclairs in Kassel.


January – Resigns his lectureship at TCD via telegram from Kassel, stunning his parents and sponsors (p.145). He moves to Paris.
February to June – First serious attempt at a novel, The Dream of Fair to Middling Women which, after hawking round publishers for a couple of years, he eventually drops and then, embarrassed at its thinly veiled depiction of close friends and lovers, actively suppresses. It doesn’t end up being published till after his death (in 1992). (Detailed synopsis and analysis pages 146 to 156.)
December – Short story Dante and the Lobster appears in This Quarter (Paris), later collected in More Pricks Than Kicks.


3 May – Upset by the death of Peggy Sinclair from tuberculosis (p.169). They had drifted apart and she was engaged to another man.
26 June – Devastated by the sudden death of his father, William Beckett, from a heart attack (p.170). Panic attacks, night sweats and other psychosomatic symptoms. His schoolfriend, Geoffrey Thompson, now a doctor, recommends psychotherapy.


January – Moves to London and begins psychoanalysis with Wilfred Bion at the Tavistock Clinic (the London years as a whole are described on page 171 to 197).
February – Negro Anthology edited by Nancy Cunard includes numerous translations by Beckett from the French.
May – Publication of More Pricks than Kicks (a loosely linked series of short stories about his comic anti-hero Belacqua Shuah (pages 182 to 184).
August to September – Contributes stories and reviews to literary magazines in London and Dublin.


November – Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates, a cycle of thirteen poems.


Returns to Dublin, to stay in the family home in uneasy proximity to his demanding mother.
29 September – Leaves Ireland for a seven-month tour around the cities and art galleries of Germany (pages 230 to 261).


April to August – First serious attempt at a play, Human Wishes, about Samuel Johnson and his household (pages 269 to 271).
October – After a decisive row with his mother, Beckett moves permanently to Paris which will be his home and base for the next 52 years (p.274)


6 January – Stabbed by a street pimp in Montparnasse, Paris. Among his visitors at the Hôpital Broussais is Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil, an acquaintance who is to become Beckett’s companion for life (pages 281 to 284).
March – Murphy, his first novel to be published.
April – Begins experimentally writing poetry directly in French.


3 September – Great Britain and France declare war on Germany. Beckett, visiting family in Ireland, ends his trip in order to return to Paris.


June – Following the German invasion of France, Beckett flees south with Suzanne.
September – Returns to Paris.


13 January – Death of James Joyce in Zurich.
1 September – Joins the Resistance cell Gloria SMH (pages 303 to 317).


16 August – As soon as Beckett and Suzanne hear that the Nazis have arrested close friend and fellow member of his resistance cell, Alfred Péron, they pack a few bags and flee to a safe house, then make their way out of Paris and flee south, a dangerous trip which involves being smuggled over the border into unoccupied France.
6 October – They arrive at Roussillon, a small village in unoccupied southern France, where they spend the next two and a half years, during which Beckett worked as a labourer on a local farm owned by the Aude family, working away at his novel, Watt, by night (pages 319 to 339)


24 August – Liberation of Paris.


30 March – Awarded the Croix de Guerre for his Resistance work.
August to December – Volunteers as a lorry driver and interpreter with the Irish Red Cross in Saint-Lô, Normandy. Appalled by the devastation of war and works closely with people from different backgrounds (pages 345 to 350).


July – Publishes first fiction in French, a truncated version of the short story Suite (later to become La Fin) as well as a critical essay on Dutch painters Geer and Bram van Velde (who he’d met and become friendly with in Germany).
Writes Mercier et Camier, his first novel in French which he leaves unpublished till the 1970s (p.360).
On a visit to his mother’s house in Ireland has the Great Revelation of his career (pages 351 to 353). He realises he’s been barking up the wrong tree trying to copy Joyce’s linguistic and thematic exuberance, and from now on must take the opposite path and investigate the previously unexplored territory of failure, imaginative impoverishment and mental collapse:

‘I realised that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realised that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.’

This unlocks his imagination and from 1946 to 1949 he experiences a frenzy of productivity, writing the Beckett Trilogy of novels and Waiting For Godot, all in French, arguably his most enduring works.


January to February – Writes first play, in French, Eleutheria, unproduced in his lifetime and published posthumously (pages 362 to 366).
April – French translation of Murphy.


Undertakes a number of translations commissioned by UNESCO and by Georges Duthuit (pages 369 to 371).


25 August – Death of his mother, May Beckett.


March – Publication of first novel of The Beckett Trilogy, Molloy, in French.
November – Publication of the second novel of the Trilogy, Malone meurt, in French.


Buys land at Ussy-sur-Marne and builds a modest bungalow on it, subsequently Beckett’s preferred location for writing.
September – Publication of En attendant Godot (in French).


5 January – Premiere of Waiting for Godot at the Théâtre de Babylone in Montparnasse, directed by Roger Blin.
May – Publication of L’Innommable, third novel in the Trilogy.
August – Publication of the pre-war novel Watt, in English.


8 September – Publication of Waiting for Godot in English.
13 September – Death of his brother, Frank Beckett, from lung cancer (pages 400 to 402)


March – Molloy, translated into English with Patrick Bowles.
3 August – First English production of Waiting for Godot in England, at the Arts Theatre, London (pages 411 to 417)
November – Publication of Nouvelles et Textes pour rien.


3 January – American premiere of Waiting for Godot in Miami, which turns out to be a fiasco; the audience had been promised a riotous comedy (p.420).
February – First British publication of Waiting for Godot.
October – Publication of Malone Dies in English.


13 January – First radio play, All That Fall, broadcast on the BBC Third Programme.
Publication of Fin de partie, suivi de Acte sans paroles.
28 March – Death of Beckett’s friend, the artist Jack B.Yeats.
3 April 1957 – Premiere of Endgame at the Royal Court Theatre in London, in French.
August – Publication of his first radio play, All That Fall, in English.
October – Tous ceux qui tombent, French translation of All That Fall with Robert Pinget.


April – Publication of Endgame, translation of Fin de partie.
Publication of From an Abandoned Work.
July – Publication of Krapp’s Last Tape.
September – Publication of The Unnamable which has taken him almost ten years to translate from the French original.
28 October – Premiere of Krapp’s Last Tape.
December – Anthology of Mexican Poetry, translated by Beckett.


March – Publication of La Dernière bande, French translation of Krapp’s Last Tape with Pierre Leyris.
24 June – Broadcast of radio play Embers on BBC Radio 3.
2 July – Receives honorary D.Litt. degree from Trinity College Dublin. Dreads the ceremony but has a surprisingly nice time (pages 469 to 470)
November – Publication of Embers in Evergreen Review.
December Publication of Cendres, French translation of Embers done with Robert Pinget.
Publication of Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies,The Unnamable soon to become known as The Beckett Trilogy (a portmanteau title Beckett actively dislikes).


23 August – Radio play The Old Tune broadcast on BBC Radio.


January – Publication of Comment c’est.
24 March – Marries Suzanne at Folkestone, Kent.
May – Shares Prix International des Editeurs with Jorge Luis Borges.
August – Publication of Poems in English.
September – Publication of Happy Days.


1 November – Premiere of Happy Days at the Royal Court Theatre, London.
13 November – Broadcast of radio play Words and Music on the BBC Third Programme.


February – Publication of Oh les beaux jours, French translation of Happy Days.
May – Assists with the German production of Play (Spiel, translated by Elmar and Erika Tophoven) in Ulm.
22 May – Outline of Film sent to Grove Press.


March – Publication of Play and Two Short Pieces for Radio.
April – Publication of How It Is, English translation of Comment c’est.
April – First performance in English of Play at the Old Vic in London.
June – Publication of Comédie, French translation of Play.
July to August – First and only trip to the United States, to assist with the production of Film in New York (pages 520 to 525)
6 October – Broadcast of radio play Cascando on BBC Radio 3.


October – Publication of Imagination morte imaginez (in French) (p.531)
November – Publication of Imagination Dead Imagine (English translation of the above).


January – Publication of Comédie et Actes divers, including Dis Joe and Va et vient (p.532)
February – Publication of Assez.
4 July – Broadcast of Eh Joe on BBC2.
October Publication of Bing.


February – Publication of D’un ouvrage abandonné.
Publication of Têtes-mortes.
16 March – Death of Beckett’s old friend, Thomas MacGreevy, the colleague who played the crucial role in introducing Beckett to Joyce and other anglophone writers in Paris way back in 1930 (p.548).
June – Publication of Eh Joe and Other Writings, including Act Without Words II and Film.
July – Publication of Come and Go, the English translation of Va et vient.
26 September – Directs first solo production, Endspiel (German translation of Endgame) in Berlin (pages 550-554).
November – Publication of No’s Knife: Collected Shorter Prose, 1945 to 1966.
December – Publication of Stories and Texts for Nothing, illustrated with six ink line drawings by Beckett’s friend, the artist Avigdor Arikha.


March – Publication of Poèmes (in French).
December – Publication of Watt, translated into French with Ludovic and Agnès Janvier.
9 December – British premiere of Come and Go at the Royal Festival Hall in London.


16 June – his 1-minute skit, Breath, first performed as part of Kenneth Tynan’s revue Oh! Calcutta!, at the Eden Theatre, New York City. To Beckett’s outrage Tynan adds totally extraneous male nudity to the piece.
23 October – Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Gets news while on holiday in Tunisia. Appalled at the loss of his anonymity (pages 570 to 573).
Publication of Sans (p.569)


April – Publication of Mercier et Camier, written as long ago as 1946.
Publication of Premier amour, also written in 1946.
July – Publication of Lessness, English translation of Sans.
September – Publication of Le Dépeupleur (pages 535 to 536)


January – Publication of The Lost Ones, English translation of Le Dépeupleur.


January – Publication of Not I.
16 January – London premier of Not I at the Royal Court theatre featuring Billie Whitelaw.
July – Publication of First Love.


Publication of Mercier and Camier in English.


Spring – Directs Waiting for Godot in Berlin and Pas moi (French translation of Not I) in Paris.


February – Publication of Pour finir encore et autres foirades.
13 April – Broadcast of radio play Rough for Radio on BBC Radio 3.
20 May – Directs Billie Whitelaw in Footfalls, which is performed with That Time at London’s Royal Court Theatre in honour of Beckett’s seventieth birthday.
Autumn – Publication of All Strange Away, illustrated with etchings by Edward Gorey.
Luxury edition of Foirades/Fizzles, in French and English, illustrated with etchings by Jasper Johns.
December – Publication of Footfalls.


March – Collected Poems in English and French.
17 April – Broadcast of …but the clouds… and Ghost Trio on BBC 2.
Collaboration with avant-garde composer Morton Feldman on an ‘opera’ titled Neither.


May – Publication of Pas, French translation of Footfalls.
August – Publication of Poèmes, suivi de mirlitonnades.


14 December – Premiere of A Piece of Monologue at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, New York.


January – Publication of Compagnie (French) and Company (English).
May – Directs Endgame in London with Rick Cluchey and the San Quentin Drama Workshop.


March – Publication of Mal vu mal dit (pages 668 to 671).
April 8 – Premiere of Rockaby at the State University of New York at Buffalo starring Billie Whitelaw.
April – Publication of Rockaby and Other Short Pieces.
9 May – Premiere of Ohio Impromptu at a conference of Beckett studies in Columbus, Ohio (pages 664 to 666).
October – Publication of Ill Seen Ill Said, English translation of Mal vu mal dit.
8 October – TV broadcast of Quad (pages 672 to 674).


21 July – Premiere of Catastrophe at the Avignon Festival (pages 677 to 681).
16 December – Broadcast of Quad on BBC 2.


April – Publication of Worstward Ho  (pages 674 to 677).
June – Broadcast in Germany of TV play Nacht und Träume (pages 681 to 683).
15 June – Premiere of What Where in America (pages 684 to 688).
September – Publication of Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment, containing critical essays on art and literature as well as the unfinished play Human Wishes.


February  -Oversees San Quentin Drama Workshop production of Waiting for Godot in London, which features the best performance of Lucky he ever saw, by young actor J. Pat Miller (pages 690 to 691).
Publication of Collected Shorter Plays.
May – Publication of Collected Poems, 1930 to 1978.
July – Publication of Collected Shorter Prose, 1945 to 1980.


April – Publication of Stirrings Still with illustrations by Louis le Brocquy (pages 697 to 699).
June – Publication of Nohow On: Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho illustrated with etchings by Robert Ryman.
17 July – Death of Beckett’s lifelong companion, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil (p.703).
22 December – Death of Samuel Beckett. Buried in Cimetière de Montparnasse (p.704).