The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume 1: 1929-1940

The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume 1: 1929-1940

by Samuel Beckett
     
 

The letters written by Samuel Beckett between 1929 and 1940 provide a vivid and personal view of Western Europe in the 1930s, and mark the gradual emergence of Beckett’s unique voice and sensibility. The Cambridge University Press edition of The Letters of Samuel Beckett offers for the first time a comprehensive range of letters of one of the greatest

Overview

The letters written by Samuel Beckett between 1929 and 1940 provide a vivid and personal view of Western Europe in the 1930s, and mark the gradual emergence of Beckett’s unique voice and sensibility. The Cambridge University Press edition of The Letters of Samuel Beckett offers for the first time a comprehensive range of letters of one of the greatest literary figures of the twentieth century. Selected for their bearing on his work from over 15,000 extant letters, the letters published in this four-volume edition encompass sixty years of Beckett's writing life (1929–1989), and include letters to friends, painters and musicians, as well as to students, publishers, translators, and colleagues in the world of literature and theater. For anyone interested in twentieth-century literature and theater this edition is essential reading, offering not only a record of Beckett's achievements but a powerful literary experience in itself.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is an extraordinary work of scholarship on the part of its main editors … What Fehsenfeld and Overbeck have produced is a revelatory triumph."
The Los Angeles Times

"Admirers of Samuel Beckett, arguably the greatest writer in English of the second half of the twentieth century, have grown used to waiting for Godot, who will surely come tomorrow or, just possibly, the day after. In the meantime, these similarly anticipated letters have quite definitely arrived, and in an edition more sumptuous than one ever imagined. Has any modern author been better served by his editors than Beckett? … Best of all, each letter is annotated in detail, with every person, event and allusion scrupulously identified."
Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

"The editorial work behind this project has been immense in scale. Every book that Beckett mentions, every painting, every piece of music is tracked down and accounted for … The standard of the commentary is of the highest … The Letters of Samuel Beckett is a model edition."
J. M. Coetzee, The New York Review of Books

"It is hard to credit the magisterial scholarship and publishing expertise that has gone into the editing of this first of four volumes of the letters of Samuel Beckett. Reading [it] is like rediscovering Beckett the man in high definition and hearing in full stereo the emerging voice that would, quite literally, transform the world of literature and theatre in the last half of the twentieth century … a breathtaking and essential work of human understanding … This is a great book; simply priceless."
Gerald Dawe, The Sunday Business Post

"For all of us who love Samuel Beckett, there can be no more thrilling book. These letters not only cast light on his life and work, they are a considerable addition to his writing … This is a volume to treasure, not just study. No Beckett reader will need it recommended, merely announced."
David Sexton, The Evening Standard

"This first volume of letters presents a young, itinerant Beckett at 22, living in Paris and writing to James Joyce. His first works are coming out: a study of Proust, a book of poetry, short stories and a novel, Murphy. In these letters, as in his career, he is warming up, assembling a style. Beckett grumbles better than anyone in the history of literature … Here is a Beckett absent from the more polished, public works: simultaneously feeling and writing, caring for words yet movingly unguarded."
Daniel Swift, The Financial Times

"One of the highlights of the year was the publication of The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929–1940 … Every page is a hoot. Beckett comes across as even smarter, and more smarting, than one already knew."
Paul Muldoon, 'Books of the Year 2009', Times Literary Supplement

"The first of four projected, this first volume is a marvel."
Harper's Magazine

"In literary annals, 2009 may well go down as the year that saw the publication of not this or that novel, set of poems, or 'important' theory book, but, quirkily enough, the first of four promised volumes of the letters of Samuel Beckett … Can a writer’s letters - occasional and ephemeral as these tend to be - really qualify as great literature? In Beckett’s case, yes. For here is the most reticent of twentieth-century writers, one who refused to explain his plays and fictions, wrote almost no formal literary criticism, and refused to attend his own Nobel Prize ceremony - revealing himself in letter after letter as warm, playful, unfailingly polite even at his most vituperative and scatological, irreverent but never cynical, and, above all, a brilliant stylist whose learning is without the slightest pretension or preciosity."
Marjorie Perloff, Bookforum

"There is fluent and brilliant evidence here of Beckett's development of his unique and irreplaceable voice … Unfalteringly brilliant, this volume is of the same order as the letters of Van Gogh, or the diaries of Kafka."
Nicholas Foxton, Time Out

"Beautifully edited and annotated."
Philip Hensher, The Spectator

"This is an important work of impeccable scholarship directed not only at Beckett academics but informed fans seeking the man behind Godot. This volume is a landmark in our quest to understand Beckett’s great esoteric works and has definitely been worth the wait."
The Washington Independent Review of Books

"One can hardly wait for Volume 2."
John Walsh, The Independent

"For Beckett enthusiasts, these letters are crammed with unexpected treasures, including displays of his dazzling erudition as an amateur art historian and his charmingly impractical ideas for the alternative careers he might pursue: gallery curator? Advertising man? Commercial pilot? Assistant to the Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein? There will be three more volumes in this admirable series; the next will cover 1945 to 1956 (the year Waiting for Godot was first produced in Britain, and the unknown author suddenly became world famous). Like Vladimir and Estragon, we fans will find it hard to wait."
Kevin Jackson, The Sunday Times

"The most bracing read [of 2009] was The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929–1940, a portrait of the Dubliner as a young European with a hard gemlike gift for language, learning and mockery. Beckett’s genius exercises itself most exuberantly in the correspondence with Thomas MacGreevy, another Irish poet more at home in Paris, his senior but his soulmate. Constantly Beckett is veering between certainty about his need to write and doubt about the results, all expressed in prose that is undoubting, delighted and demanding."
Seamus Heaney, 'Books of the Year 2009', Times Literary Supplement

Joseph O'Neill
…an elating cultural moment is upon us. It is also a slightly surprising moment. Beckett, in his published output and authorial persona, was rigorously spare and self-effacing. Who knew that in his private writing he would be so humanly forthcoming? We always knew he was brilliant—but this brilliant? Just as the otherworldliness of tennis pros is most starkly revealed in their casual warm-up drills, so these letters, in which intellectual and linguistic winners are struck at will, offer a humbling, thrilling revelation of the difference between Beckett's game and the one played by the rest of us.
—The New York Times Book Review
Dwight Garner
At nearly 800 pages, Volume 1, weighed down with scholarly apparatus, makes a mighty thunk on the coffee table. But reading it is far from homework: the Beckett we meet in these piquant letters, most written when he was in his late 20s and early 30s, is rude, mordantly witty and scatological yet often (and this is perhaps the biggest surprise) affectionate and wholehearted.
—The New York Times
Michael Dirda
Admirers of Samuel Beckett, arguably the greatest writer in English of the second half of the 20th century, have grown used to waiting for Godot, who will surely come tomorrow or, just possibly, the day after. In the meantime, these similarly anticipated letters have quite definitely arrived, and in an edition more sumptuous than one ever imagined.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

Shuffled among publishers for too long, the selected letters of the great Irish novelist and playwright Beckett (1906-1989) are finally here, the first in a projected four-volume set. Beckett, known for his love of silence and texts that attenuated to nearly nothing, was a veritable letter-writing machine, though only his letters to director Alan Schneider have been previously collected; this project may well represent the last great corpus of typed and handwritten correspondence from a literary giant. Beginning with two letters from the then-unpublished 23-year-old to James Joyce (helping the master with some Greek translations), and ending with a short note describing a Bram Van Velde painting seen just before the Nazis took Paris, Beckett struggles valiantly, endlessly, to find himself (included is a 1936 request for admission to the Moscow State School of Cinematography). There's much to discover, including Beckett's relations with forgotten Irish poet Thomas McGreevy and some explicit shop talk, including a 1937 letter to Axel Kaun in which he outlines his ambition: "to drill one hole after another into the English language until that which lurks behind, be it something or nothing, starts seeping through." Accompanied by smart, exhaustive notes, chronologies and solid bios of all correspondents, this collection will no doubt deepen Beckett scholarship, as well as fans' appreciation.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal

The first letter in this first of four volumes is by Samuel Beckett (1906-89) to the illustrious James Joyce, Beckett's muse and mentor. The letter is concise, informative, and gracious, nothing more-not unlike many of Beckett's letters to friends and associates. The countless letters collected here are newsy, chatty, sometimes caustic, challenging, and even disillusioned. Other times, they are charitable, hopeful, and actually sweet in tone. The subject often deals with business matters, but also with poetry, music, and art. It is obvious that Beckett appreciated writing and receiving letters; his way of handling practical matters was another way of being creative. Most of all, letter writing for Beckett was the best way of staying engaged. The reading of the letters is benefited by the thorough research and care of the editors, including a chronological presentation, the naming of the recipient, and the place of origin. Of course, the soul of the book is Beckett himself: his will, his doubts, his intransigence, his need for recognition, his angst, his mind, and his heart. Recommended for all libraries.
—Robert Kelly

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780521867931
Publisher:
Cambridge University Press
Publication date:
02/28/2009
Series:
Letters of Samuel Beckett Series
Pages:
882
Sales rank:
623,319
Product dimensions:
8.78(w) x 5.86(h) x 1.99(d)

Meet the Author

Martha Dow Fehsenfeld was authorised to edit Beckett's correspondence in 1985.

Lois More Overbeck is Research Associate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Emory University, Atlanta.

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