Daiken, Leslie (writer)
Leslie Herbert Daiken was born in Dublin in 1912 to Samuel and Rosa Yodaiken. They were part of Dublin’s Jewish community, who lived primarily in the ‘Little Jerusalem’ area around Clanbrassil Street, comprising mainly refugees from anti-Semitic pogroms in the Russian Empire. Following Daiken’s schooling at St. Andrew’s College and Wesley College in Dublin, he took a Modern Languages and Literatures B.A. at Trinity College, Dublin, beginning in 1930. One of his lecturers was Samuel Beckett, who taught French Literature at Trinity College between 1930 and 1931. Daiken won successive Vice-Chancellor’s Prizes in English Prose in 1932 and 1933, for essays on Shakespeare and contemporary poetry. He was a founding member of Trinity’s Gaelic Society, and was involved in the Dublin University Socialist Society. Friends from his university days knew him as ‘Yod’, but in the 1930s he started publishing under the name ‘Daiken’, adopting the name by deed poll in 1943.
In the mid-1930s, Daiken moved to London, where he pursued his interests in Irish Republicanism and Zionism. He edited the Irish Front newspaper with Charlie Donnelly and was an active member of the Republican Congress, a broad coalition of Irish republicans, socialists, and anti-fascists. Daiken married Lilyan Adams in 1944, a Canadian actor, with whom he had two daughters: Melanie in 1945, and Elinor in 1947. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Corps of Signals, Army of the Republic of Ireland, and worked as an educational correspondent for Reuters.
Daiken’s career encompassed pedagogy, journalism, broadcasting, and literary writing – diverse interests that were reflected in his varied publishing output. In 1936, he compiled an anthology of Republican poetry entitled Good-bye, Twilight: Songs of the Struggle in Ireland (1936), which was advertised as ‘the authentic voice of the people, peasants, workers and intellectuals’. In 1945, a volume of his own poetry was published under the title Signatures of All Things. He did much pioneering work in children’s toys and games, setting up The Toy Museum and publishing widely on the topic. He made a documentary film about children’s street rhymes entitled One potato, two potato, which won an award at the Festival Mondial du Film in Brussels in 1958.
Daiken retained several friends from his Trinity College days including A. J. (Con) Leventhal and Samuel Beckett. When Beckett passed through London in the summer of 1945, he gave Daiken a manuscript of his novel Watt, which Daiken tried to place with a publisher without success. Their correspondence suggests that the friendship deepened in the late 1950s, when they visited each other in Paris and London. Daiken wrote a radio play about Dublin’s Irish-Jewish community, The Circular Road, which drew on his childhood memories and focuses on a young boy whose father was shot during the Civil War. It was broadcast on the BBC in 1960 and on RTÉ in 1962.
He was appointed as a lecturer in the Audio Visual Department at the University of Ghana in Accra in 1963, but died less than a year into the post. When his daughter Melanie moved to Paris to study music in 1966, she became friends with Beckett herself, and was in contact with him until the 1980s.
Written by Xander Ryan, (University of Reading) as part of a placement project, supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, March – September 2019. Research based on various sources including NLI Daiken Collection; Paul Rouse, ‘Daiken, Leslie Herbert’, Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge, 2009); Katrina Goldstone, ‘Leslie Daiken and Harry Kernoff’, Studies in Irish Radical Leadership: Lives on the left, ed. O’Connor and Cunningham (Manchester, 2016).
This collection contains the notebooks of Leslie Daiken and Samuel Beckett’s letters to members of the Daiken family. The 13 notebooks were filled by Leslie Daiken during the 1930s, predominantly lecture notes made whilst he was an undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin. Beckett was one of his lecturers in French literature, and Daiken’s notes from Beckett’s lectures are in notebook MS 5647/1/5. The second box contains correspondence (letters and cards) from Beckett to members of the Daiken family: first to Leslie Daiken and his wife Lilyan Daiken (née Adams), and later to their daughter Melanie Daiken. The collection includes annotated transcriptions of every letter, in a separate file.
Please note that a photocopy of any Beckett manuscript will normally be made available in the reading room. Please contact Special Collections for more information on accessing the original item.
The copying of any of Beckett’s handwriting and sketches, or any unpublished letters, typescripts, manuscripts or draft versions of his work that differ from the final published version is not permitted.
- A full description is available on our online database.
- A handlist for the whole collection can be found here.
- This collection has been featured in a couple of blog posts: ‘Postal notation: Melanie Daiken and Samuel Beckett‘ and ‘Street Fights and Radishes: the notebooks of Leslie Daiken‘ .
- See also an Introduction to the Beckett Collection.