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Samuel Beckett

Writer Samuel Beckett (1906–89) is known for depicting a world of abject misery, failure, and absurdity in his many plays, novels, short stories, and poetry. Yet the despair in his work is never absolute, instead it is intertwined with black humor and an indomitable will to endure––characteristics best embodied by his most famous characters, Vladimir and Estragon, in the play Waiting for Godot. Beckett himself was a supremely modern, minimalist writer who deeply distrusted biographies and resisted letting himself be pigeonholed by easy interpretation or single definition. Andrew Gibson’s accessible critical biography overcomes Beckett’s reticence and carefully considers the writer’s work in relation to the historical circumstances of his life.

In Samuel Beckett, Gibson tracks Beckett from Ireland after independence to Paris in the late 1920s, from London in the ’30s to Nazi Germany and Vichy France, and finally through the cold war to the fall of communism in the late ’80s. Gibson narrates the progression of Beckett’s life as a writer—from a student in Ireland to the 1969 Nobel Prize winner for literature—through chapters that examine individual historical events and the works that grew out of those experiences. A notoriously private figure, Beckett sought refuge from life in his work, where he expressed his disdain for the suffering and unnecessary absurdity of much that he witnessed.

This concise and engaging biography provides an essential understanding of Beckett’s work in response to many of the most significant events of the past century.

192 pages | 25 halftones | 5 x 7 7/8 | © 2010

Critical Lives

Biography and Letters

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"Samuel Beckett’s famously abstract and bleakly skeptical work can seem to be at odds with the underlying assumptions of traditional biography. For at the very least such biography affirms that its subject’s life is capable of being presented as a more or less coherent narrative; a narrative, moreover that is worth telling. Yet the main characters of Beckett’s plays tend to have grave doubts about not only the value but even the possibility of telling their own life stories. . . .  Andrew Gibson’s new biography distinguishes itself from the competition (including Alvarez’ short, somewhat impressionist sketch, as well as the more traditional, detailed works of Cronin and Knowlson) by being acutely sensitive to this problem. Clearly something of a Beckettian himself, Gibson sets himself the ambitious task of narrating Beckett’s life ’in more Beckettian terms’. . . . Gibson’s Beckett appears finally as a late romantic in an unromantic age, fundamentally concerned with remote possibilities of secular transcendence."

Metapsychology Online Reviews

“[The book] undoubtedly sheds light on the historical circumstances that informed [Beckett’s] texts, and there are many interesting details that allow us to see his literary achievement more clearly.”

Times Literary Supplement

“This new biography . . . considers the writer’s work in relation to the historical circumstances of his life and provides an original insight into one of Ireland’s greatest writers.”

Irish Post

Table of Contents


Introduction: Fuck Life

1        Arriving at an End: Ireland, 1906-28

2        Not Worth Tuppence: Paris and the École Normale Supérieure, 1928-30

3        The Ruthless Cunning of the Sane: London, 1933-5

4        Melancholia im dritten Reich: Germany, 1936-7   

5        Élimination des déchets: The War, Resistance, Vichy France, 1939-44

6        Indignités: Liberation, the Purge, de Gualle, 1944-9

7        Make Sense Who May: A World at Cold War, 1950-85

8        Where He Happened to Be: Capital Triumphans, 1985-9

Afterword: To Begin Yet Again


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Photo Acknowledgements

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