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The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol 1 1929-40

No, alas, this is not a review of said letters, but only a review of a review. Well, it's not even that really, but more of a 'the letters of Samuel Beckett are out!!!' And this week's issue of the TLS has Beckett on the cover, with his almost goat-like piercing pale blue eyes - and a bowler clad character in the background. The excitement around the publication of these letters - with three more volumes to follow - reminds one just how important these prolific letter writers are to us - years after their deaths. I recall from an earlier blog that it is such a shame that we will surely, or at least the next generation will, lose out on this part of literary studies - the letters collection. Tell me - who writes letters to friends and colleagues in any great depth - if at all - anymore? And no - emails and texts DO NOT count. Nor do blog posts!

So what will we have of the daily workings of this and future figures?

Maybe if they all go down the Julie Myerson route we won't need the letters of the troubling parts of their domestic lives (which, thankfully or not, we will not have from Beckett), anonymously scribed columns and not so anonymous 'A True Story'. That's the thing - if we'd have had Myerson's domestic drama in the form of letters some years hence, or even not so many years hence, there wouldn't be the level of animosity towards her that there currently is. Why? Because letter writers, especially from writers, give us depth. Could one assume these letter writers assumed they would have readers in mind many years hence? I don't think Beckett could ever be seen as having such motives. A prolific letter writer, in stark contrast to his often stark plays forever bearing in mind his insistence on the seemingly smallest of details, such as 'the text says a three dot pause...'

From 1929 to his death in 1989 Beckett wrote 15,000 letters! That's an average of 250 per year - nearly five a week. One for every week day. Yet the reader will only have access to 2,500 complete letters and citations from a further 5,000 because, as the TLS reports, Beckett only allowed the publication of those letters which had a bearing on his work - which leaves a handy 7,500 - half - of his letters, that were totally personal. Domestic or whatever. I can't wait to tuck into this first volume, not least because whilst I love Waiting for Godot, Endgame, his trilogy of novels, I have always been more interesting in Beckett the man - the writer - his processes. I remember reading a biography of him in the nineties, Damned to Fame, by James Knowlson, way before I came to any of his works, and thinking what an enigmatic figure he was. These early letters then, show the trouble Beckett was having trying to get his early works published. One of the facts retained in my head is that Murphy was rejected by 42 different publishers. Whilst in Dublin we hear of his brother's reaction to his rejections, 'When he heard Heinemann had turned down (Murphy) he said: Why can't you write the way people want?' When I replied that I could only write the one way, i.e. as best I could (not the right answer, by the way, not at all the right answer), he said it was a good thing for him he did not feel obliged to implement such a spirit in 6 St Clare St (his office). And then: 'It is indeed getting more and more difficult, even pointless, for me to write in formal English. And more and more by language appears to me like a veil which one has to tear apart in order to get to those things (or the nothingness) lying behind it. Grammar and style!'

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