Beckett, Samuel (writer)

Reference: BCDate: c.1929-currentExtent: Over 7000 items

Samuel Beckett was born in Foxrock, County Dublin on 13 April 1906. On entering Trinity College, Dublin, Beckett developed his interest in art, music and literature. He was a gifted linguist who also enjoyed vaudeville theatre and the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. An academic career seemed to be the obvious option on graduating but, after spells teaching in Paris and Dublin, Beckett realised he was more suited to the artistic lifestyle he had encountered in Paris in the company of James Joyce.

Having witnessed the intolerance of the Nazi regime towards writers and artists in Germany in 1936, Beckett famously decided that he preferred France at war to Ireland in peace, opting to live in France for the rest of his life. However, this bold decision was more than a mere gesture. Beckett was forced to spend much of the war on the run from the Nazis in the South of France working with the French Resistance, for which he was later awarded the Croix de Guerre.

The end of the war marked a burst of literary activity for Beckett, who began writing, in French, a dense prose trilogy comprising Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. As a relaxation from this project, between October 1948 and January 1949, Beckett worked on a play entitled En attendant Godot – the work which brought him international fame and recognition, and which redefined modern theatre. Further literary success ensued, culminating in him being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

As the years progressed, Beckett’s prose and drama decreased in length, as he found increasingly successful ways to express the inexpressible. Yet throughout his career, he remained a bilingual author, creating French and English versions of almost all his work. During the 1970s Beckett directed his major stage plays in Berlin in German, exhibiting another side of his character. His success in this field led him to direct his own plays created specifically for television – a medium which seemed perfect for the stark, imposing images of these later, minimalist pieces.

Samuel Beckett died on 22 December 1989 and was buried in a private ceremony in the Cimetière de Montparnasse in Paris.

The collection at Reading originated in an exhibition organised by James Knowlson in 1971 for which Beckett and his friends donated the items which formed the nucleus of the archive. Beckett continued to support the collection with great generosity until his death in 1989, donating manuscripts, paintings and other items.

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