Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist (London: HarperCollins 1996), 655pp.

For sections of this record more relevant to the individual works, see under Beckett.

Like the aristocracy, the Protestant business community of the towns and cities looked down on Catholics as, in general, rather feckless, lazy and dishonest. A sort of right to ownership and control of business as a prerogative of greater thrift and industry, never mind the favour of Providence, was widely assumed. Except perhaps perforce as employers, and to some extent as manufacturers or shopkeepers, they took care to have very little contact with Catholics; and the aim of many Protestant business people as employers was as far as possible to recruit their clerical staff and work force from among their co-religionists. There were then rnany thousands of lower-middle-class Protestants from among whom to recruit and even a relatively smaller number of working class, of which number John Casey, or Sean O’Casey, was one. Socially too they kept their distance as far as possible. It was a boast among the denizens of Foxrock, the suburb in which the newly married couple were about to live, that one could pass one’s day without speaking to any Catholic other than the railway company’s employer. [Quotes Mercier]. [9]

Mercier: ‘The males and some of the females of the typical Protestant family took the train every weekday to office, school or university in Dublin. In all these places they were likely to be associating almost exclusively with fellow Protestants. The females who stayed at home spent their leisure time with other Protestant ladies, though their maids and gardeners were usually Catholic. If one preferred to think of oneself as English there was really no reason not to.’ (Beckett/Beckett, Souvenir Press 1977, n.d.; Cronin p.9.)

[T]o call this class Anglo-Irish is to lump it in with the Protestant land-owning aristocracy … Anglo-Irish is a misnomer also because in fact the Protestant Dublin middle classes probably looked to England less often and with less social anxieties than did their landed co-religionists. They did not, for the most part, send their offsprings to English schools or take their daughters to England for the London seasons, still less desport themselves at Cowes or Ascot. [10]

Lawrence Harvey: ‘the fear of dreaming is a leitmotif that runs through Beckett’s writing as a kind of subterranean analogue to the misery of living.’ [17]

The extent to which he was impressed by the cadences and spiritual content of the Authorised Version of the Bible during his mother’s dailing readings had perhaps been exagggerated by a generatino less familiar with family readings than his own. Until compartiavely short time ago the Bible was the first great work of literature or ontology to which most people were introduced and, as such, it of course proved memorable, but his frequency of quotation from it is no guide to the extent to which he was influenced, either theologically or in a literary sense. When he became a writer he made freuent reference to the bible in his works, but reference in Bekcett may be ironic or even [20] sarcastic. It may be intended simly to bring about an echo chamber effect, giving resonance to what is being said; or it may be an oblique reminder of how far his eprsonages have travelled from the certainties of the past. Later he would sometimes insist that his use of the Bible and Christian mythology was merely a literary device, rejecting the idea that he had been profoundly affected or influenced by it. This may have been true, but in after-life he always possessed a Bible, at the end more than one edition, and Bible concordances were always among the reference books on his shelves. He knew the book backwards … [21]

There is no doubt that May Beckett loved her son fiercely. Later on he would speak of her ‘savage loving’, but somehow it did not come through to him in the right way. [23]

Irish history was not taught there [at Portora] and Beckett rarely showed any but the most minimal interest in it, a fact which makes critical theory relating his work to the guilt he and other Protestants felt about their part in its melancholy course rather dubious. The general feeling among his class would certainly not have been guilt; and most members of it would have inclined to the J. A. Froude view that the Protestants were the civilising influence, teaching probity, fair dealing and respect for the law to the natives. [49]

Beckett called O’Casey ‘a master of knockabout in this very serious and honorable sense - that he discerns the principle of disintegration in even the most complacent solidities, and activates it to their explosion’; especially praised one-acter The End of the Beginning, in which the two comic characters Darry Berrill and Barry Derill end ‘in an agony of callisthenics, surrounded by the doomed furniture.’ [58]

[M]uch of what was going on in Psris passed Beckett by, for three principal reasons. The first was his youth and relative lack of sophistication. The second was that he had a fruitful talent for allowing things to pass him by; and the third that in spite of his knowledge of the French language and his interest in French literature he was drawn almost immediately into the circle surrounding James Joyce and therefore into an expatriate and, on the whole, anglophone, rather than a French, or francophone scheme of things. [83]

Note: twelve men in Florence called Ottolenghi’ (Exagmination, 1929), p.29.

Although this opportunity to attribute a transcendental belief to Proust is passed up, however, there is certainly a general impression of an attitude to art which partakes of a sort of religious fervour, or of an attempt to make a sort of surrogate religion of art … Beckett would deny in later life that he had ever been a believer or that religious belief had ever made much appeal to him. The religious vocabulary of Proust certainly makes an opposite impression. [147]

‘“Limbese” was Beckett’s word for the state of self-centred, mildly gloomy meditativeness and detachment in which he liked to live, with the outer world shut away, its noises meaningless, its struggles pointless. What he is describing is a psychology common enough in youth, one in which ordinary shyness and introspection of course play their part, but in which a deeper fear of the world, perhaps innate in the personality, is involved. To accept the tests and challenges of the world is to put the self in jeopardy, for the self of work, social encounter or even sexual relationship is not the real self, it is a compromise self and the real self may be perrnanently damaged by such encounters. The avoidance or retreat is therefore justified by the protection of self-hood, of the pure core of the personality. Those who suffer from varieties of this syndrome feel as if this inner core of the self - the soul, one might say - cries out against the necessity of engagement with others and with circumstance. [162]

Dream of Middling to Fair Women: ‘Reading it now, one can only agree that it thoroughly deserved this [169] fate. It may - indeed it idoes - give evidence of genius. There are remarkable honesties nad even remarkable insights in it, passages in which very difficult matters, usually pertaining ot the self, are discussed with some insight, eloquence and feeling. But it also contains long passages of thoroughly confused, onbscure and unreadable writing. The tone of voice is embarrassingly wrong, at once ingratiating, cocky and would-be Olympian. When Beckett later described the Dream as “immature and unworthy” he spoke no more than the truth. [170]

Berates Lawrence Harvey [171]

Most of the events of life may have been ‘occasions of fiasco’ as hey occurred; but th subsequent remembrance of them was nevertheless more tolerable than present existence could every be. The vein of simple nostalgia in some of his writings is surprising, but its importance should not be overlooked. However happy or othewise his childhood might have been, sometimes his childhood memories overwhelmed him. [182]

Beckett found his trip to Galway ‘unforgettable’ though ‘much too short’, describing the bog and mountainy country as ‘somehow much more innocent and obvious than the stealthy secret variety we have here.’ [183]

Since these are the first observations he ever made about the landscape of any part of Ireland other than that of Dublin and Wicklow, his attitude is interesting. Though he spent much longer in Ireland as an adult than James Joyce did, his forays outside dublin were almost as few in number [184]

B praised Cezanne to MacGreevy for his vision of landscape as ‘something unapproachably alien’ and ‘unintelligent arrangement of atoms’. [184]

the truth is that he was persisting in disliking most almost everyone with the exception of Leventhal, even though his manner when he met them seemed to give an opposite impression. (p.195)

Notes the slow progress of ‘Censorship and the Saorstat’ suggests no whit of while indignation’ [206]

The facts, though, that like his admired mentor James Joyce, he put his poetry into poetry. Just as there is more true poetry in Ulysses than there is in Chamber Music, so there is more in Watt or even in the harsher and more humorous Molly thanther is in his avowed poetry. [225]

‘[Watt] was a book about something which was central to Beckett and it could not have been written by anybody else. It not only signalled its author’s break with the traditional novel, but it marked also his rejection of all assumed modes and accepted subjects. Gone, or almost gone - for it does mar the opening pages a little - was the form of satirical Irish whimsy - buttonholing, personal, would-be shocking and would-be charming at the same time - which had been the mode of other Irish novels of the 20s and 30s and was also the mode of More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy.

Watt is an extraordinary book by any standards; but it is not perhaps such an extraordinary one for Beckett to have written in his current circumstances as would at first appear, for it is, in fact, about losing one’s grip on reality. To account for it, some biographical commentators have suggested that Beckett had a breakdown in Roussillon. Those who were there knew nothing of this. But he had been through some very strange experiences, ending in this marooning in the depths of the French provinces while Europe went through one of its periodical fits of self-destruction. It was natural enough that he should ponder the nature of reality and feel how easy it might be to lose one’s grip on it, such as it was. [ …; 336]

In Watt for the first time Beckett achieved his characteristic style, a syntax full of reservations and uncertainties, denials and admissions that something else might be the case, with a superb use of the comma. (pp.336-37).

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