Thursday, March 12, 2009

Be in no doubt (just this once)

In the 1930s ... there was no public man, and we have to see the letters as merely one of many ways in which an ambitious, confused and tormented young writer attempted to discover who he was and what it was he wanted out of life and art. These early letters, in other words, are, like the early poems and stories, in the strict sense essais, the trying out of a voice, a tone, even, at times, another language.
Gabriel Josipovici takes a long look at volume one of The Letters of Samuel Beckett.
What we now need is the other three volumes to appear as quickly as possible and then for CUP to issue a selection of the most interesting letters, with absolutely minimum annotation, in a one-volume paperback. Because, be in no doubt about it, if Godot and Molloy lit up the dreary landscape of writing in the immediate post-war era, these letters are set to do the same for the new century.


  1. Nice, thanks.

    From this passage in the review:

    "when Beckett gave his blessing in principle to the idea of publishing his letters he specified that he only wished to have published those which would “have a bearing on [his] work”. One can surmise from their introduction that the editors have had to fight long and hard with Beckett’s executors to make their sense of what has a bearing on the work prevail." can only assume that Hensher did not read the introduction.

  2. I think Hensher did read the intro as he says: "There is a possibility ... that some odd requirements placed on the editors have excluded some interesting material. Beckett, towards the end of his life, stipulated that the only letters to be published should be those that illuminated his work."

    But still, he's imagining his own Beckett - an incontinent English, middlebrow hack who thinks everything has to be drawn under politics and social issues to make any sense.

  3. Ha, perhaps I could have read his review more closely!

    Still, it seems strange that one could acknowledge the existence of such a stipulation and yet persist in being annoyed that in these letters Beckett doesn't talk about politics or whatever.

  4. But the message I get from Gabriel as from Pip is the same: READ THIS BOOK.

  5. It was worth reading this review just to catch that 1930 comment from SB to Charles Prentice apologising for not breaking out of his block in order to be able to come up with additions to his Proust text: "I expected more generous rifts in the paralysis." Priceless!

    I am leaving for the bookshop now to buy this volume...

  6. As fine a description of Hensher as I have read.



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