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


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...
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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.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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.
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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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521867931
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2009
  • Series: Letters of Samuel Beckett Series
  • Pages: 882
  • Sales rank: 481,435
  • 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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Table of Contents

General introduction; French translator's preface George Craig; German translator's preface Viola Westbrook; Editorial procedures; Acknowledgments; Permissions; Abbreviations; Introduction to Volume I; Letters; Appendix; Profiles; Bibliography; Index.
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  • Posted May 30, 2009

    Perfect Book

    This collection of letters is the missing ingredient in Beckett scholarship; the perfect companion to Knowlson's bigraphy. Beautifully researched by a team of bona fide Beckett experts and presented by Cambridge Press in a quality example of modern book construction (as a physical object alone, it is worth the money), it is a great read besides, a historical document of these creative times. Makes my Beckett library a work of art.

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