Samuel Barclay Beckett - Biography, Childhood, Studies & Death

The poet and playwright Samuel Barclay Beckett was born in Foxrock near Dublin in 1906 and died in Paris in 1989. He is considered one of the most important authors of the theater of the absurd and of the 20th century in general. In 1969 Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is known to a wide audience above all for his dramas, especially "Waiting for Godot". His work also includes prose and poetry.

Samuel Barclay Beckett

Childhood and Upbringing

Samuel Beckett was born on April 13, 1906, in Foxrock near Dublin. He was the second child of the wealthy Anglican couple May and William Beckett. At school, he attracted attention because of his excellent sporting achievements. At the age of thirteen, he went to the boarding school Portora Royal School in Enniskillen/Fermanagh, which Oscar Wilde had attended about 50 years earlier.

Studies and literary beginnings

From 1923 Beckett studied Romance languages ​​and English at Trinity College, Dublin. Educational trips took him to France, Venice, and Florence in 1926 and 1927. After completing his studies at the top of his class in 1927, Beckett first worked as a high school teacher in Belfast, then for two years as an English lecturer at the renowned École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He found access to Parisian artistic life and met his twenty-four years older and famous compatriot James Joyce. The encounter made a strong impression on Beckett, and he worked for a time as his secretary.

Beckett's first publications appeared in 1929; However, his works were repeatedly rejected by publishers. As a result, Beckett did not even submit his 1932 novel "Dream of More to Less Beautiful Women"; the work was published in 1992 from the estate. In 1930, Beckett returned to Trinity College, Dublin as an assistant, but had difficulty adjusting. In the same year, he won a poetry competition with the poem "Whoroscope".

As a result of psychosomatic illnesses, Beckett decided to end his academic career at the end of 1931. He traveled to Germany and France. After the death of his father and childhood sweetheart Peggy Sinclair in 1933, Beckett's health problems worsened. He began psychotherapeutic treatment in London. During a six-month trip to Germany in 1936/37, he met artists and observed the cultural scene. He commented sharply on the changes brought about by Nazi rule.

In 1937 Beckett moved permanently to Paris, where he met the young pianist Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil, who would become his wife twenty-four years later. He met the artists Alberto Giacometti and Marcel Duchamp and had a brief affair with Peggy Guggenheim.

Second World War

When World War II broke out, Beckett was in Ireland but immediately returned to Paris. During the German occupation, Beckett and Suzanne worked for a Resistance group. Numerous members of their group were arrested, but Beckett and Suzanne were able to hide in Roussillon in unoccupied southern France. There Beckett worked on his novel "Watt".

Literary breakthroughs and successful years

After the war, Beckett decided on his style, with which he wanted to set himself apart from James Joyce: According to Beckett's biographer James Knowson, Beckett consciously chose brevity and omission. Back in Paris in 1946, Beckett began writing consistently in French. A very productive period lasting about fifteen years began with the novel "Mercier und Camier", several short stories, and art reviews.

On January 5, 1953, "Waiting for Godot" premiered at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris and established Beckett's fame as an author of the theater of the absurd. The same apocalyptic mood as in "Waiting for Godot" can also be found in the plays "Endspiel", "Das Last Tape" or "Happy Days". All are about the meaninglessness of human existence, about despair in the face of a world that is both incomprehensible and indifferent.

Beckett's most acclaimed prose works of that time are the novels "Molloy" (1951), "Malone Dies" (1952), and "The Nameless One" (1953), which became increasingly sparse and puristic. They are pessimistic and hopeless but characterized by an inexplicable will to survive or persevere.

Late Years and Death

In 1961, Beckett married Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil. He had recently started a relationship with Barbara Bray, who worked as a dramaturge for the BBC. Beckett remained connected to both women until his death. In 1969 Beckett received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

As early as 1956, Beckett had written his first radio play, All Who Fall; the original broadcast was in 1957. In the following years, he wrote other radio plays and numerous theater and television plays, some of which he directed. His pieces were strikingly minimalist, sometimes consisting of just a single camera shot or a few words. In 1982 he dedicated the short play "Catastrophe" to the imprisoned Czech writer and human rights activist Václav Havel.

Suzanne died in July 1989, and Samuel Beckett on December 22, 1989. The grave of the two is on the Cimitière Montparnasse in Paris. Barbara Bray died in Edinburgh in 2010.

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