Samuel Beckett
Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett book jacket

Samuel Beckett’s ‘Trilogy’ is preceded by its reputation for being bleak, difficult and perhaps nihilistic. My advice is to set that aside and, to use T.S. Eliot’s phrase, “suspend your disbelief”. The cover of Vivian Mercier’s Beckett / Beckett volume (OUP, 1977) is adorned with a shot of Beckett smiling engagingly, as if cracking a joke or listening to one being cracked. It’s good to see, contrasting as it does with most other photographs of the man, which usually suggest a sombre disposition. So it is with his novels which, though replete with gloom and seemingly despairing and contradictory narratives, are unfailingly illuminated with frequent upwellings of droll, slapstick, morbid and ribald humour.

There is a fierce intelligence at work here, for sure, as a series of narrators peer out from the text at landscapes bleached of colour in predicaments that are only partly-known and little understood. As a metaphor for ‘the human condition’, this lop-sided narration sets out to tease and frustrate us in equal measure. Who are Molloy and Malone and Moran? What is meant by their tramping, rolling in mud, wallowing, creeping, crawling progress towards an unreachable horizon or a bed-ridden future? Is he suggesting that they stand for us? These are the sorts of questions that Beckett notoriously refused to answer.

The context of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable

Beckett wrote Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable after the close of the second world war, in Paris, in French. (Paris was the city where Beckett had assisted the French Resistance, earning himself a wartime Croix de Guerre and a personal citation from General de Gaulle.) These three volumes (which Beckett himself never thought of as a trilogy, but which he wrote in rapid succession) followed his work on a string of essays and the novels Murphy and Watt (posted about on this site and which Beckett wrote - by his own admission - to stave off complete mental breakdown), both written in his native English, little of which did much to establish his reputation at the time (that came much later, notably after Waiting for Godot had later been met with critical acclaim). [Indeed the continual delays between Beckett’s completing a project and its final publication, coupled with a repetition of this in the second language, be it English or French, usually working from his own translation, is a recurrent theme to his life. It shouldn’t be under-estimated what impact this delayed recognition had on the author’s mental and physical health.]

Biographies of Beckett mention his belief that he could remember some of his time in utero and that it was followed by a birth that was painful to him. Freud had suggested that this not uncommon experience gave rise to long-lasting primal anxieties. In 1934 Beckett had sought psychotherapy at the Tavistock Clinic in London under Dr Wilfred Bion. Beckett also attended a lecture given at the Tavistock by Carl Jung. He remained haunted by a story told by Jung of a girl troubled by premonitions of death who Jung believed had “never properly been born”. (Beckett was sufficiently impressed by Jung to recommend that James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, sought help from Jung, which she did. Beckett referred to him as the Swiss Tweedledee, “who is not to be confused with the Viennese Tweedledee”.) Whether Beckett might have resumed such sessions for his own health had war not intervened is not known. One could take the view that writing became his chosen form of therapy, but how far this resolved his complex and emotional relationship with his own mother - at least in part resulting from these memories and beliefs - remains open to question. War enforced their separation and resulted in Beckett staying put in France. When he managed to return to Dublin in 1945, he was appalled to see how much his mother had aged - and that Parkinson’s was taking its toll on her. Whilst in Dublin, Beckett was overcome by a sort of ‘revelation’, made public in his play Krapp’s Last Tape:

Spiritually a year of profound gloom and indigence until that memorable night in March, at the end of the jetty, in the howling wind, never to be forgotten, when suddenly I saw the whole thing. The vision at last. This I fancy is what I have chiefly to record this evening … . What I suddenly saw then was this, that the belief I had been going on all my life, namely [Krapp switches off impatiently, winds tape forward, switches on again]—great granite rocks the foam flying up in the light of the lighthouse and the wind−gauge spinning like a propeller, clear to me at last that the dark I have always struggled to keep under is in reality my most [Krapp curses, switches off, winds tape forward, switches on again]— unshatterable association until my dissolution of storm and night with the light of the understanding and the fire.

This ‘vision’ appeared to Beckett in his mother’s room (not at the end of Krapp’s pier) and affirmed to him that light should be rejected in favour of darkness. As Beckett subsequently explained to one of his biographer’s, James Knowlson:

I realised that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more … He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realised that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding. (Knowlson, 1996, p.352)

Joyce’s fiction was encyclopaedic, constantly referring outwards and backwards to the classics, to Dublin’s geography, to railway timetables and categories of man-made artefacts. (Beckett’s appreciation of this was intimate. He translated a part of Finnegans Wake into French and advanced a favourable critique of the book when he was but 23 in the 1929 collection Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress.) Both Murphy and Watt were written under Joyce’s influence, dense and unmistakably erudite as they are. Beckett thus resolved to change tack and concentrate his writing, instead, on man as an ignorant ‘non-knower’. His focus would be on poverty, failure, exile and loss in an internal and spare world of limited and reducing horizons. When he returned to Paris in 1946, he embarked on what he called a ‘frenzy of writing’ and he did so for the first time in French.

Beckett’s French was close to fluent and he had developed the view that its capacity for precision and avoidance of ambiguity offered more than his native English. This became his vehicle for expressing the landscapes in the ‘Trilogy’, shorn of detailed personal memories with action in an unspecified time. Though there is much in Molloy and in Malone Dies that appears to draw on Beckett’s earlier life in Dublin and in Roussillon, these passages seem to have deliberately obliterated anything recognisable in their progress towards an economy of expression. That Beckett translated these French works into English himself conjures an arresting intellectual geometry.


A. Alvarez, in his short but illuminating book Samuel Beckett, charted the mental collapse of the characters in Beckett’s novels as follows:

Murphy’s solipsism was whimsical, the diversion of an overeducated man bored and irritated by his threadbare, gossipy life; Watt’s rambling obsessionality was a stage beyond this, a symptom of the gentle dottiness to which he eventually succumbed; in the ‘Trilogy’ the despair gradually gathered momentum until it became a full-blown psychosis, terror-stricken and helpless. (Alvarez, 1973, p.73)

Thinking of Watt as obsessional and gently dotty is perfect. Molloy then begins where Watt ended, but the degeneration towards the ‘full-blown psychosis’ has to pass through various stages. That destination, however, is not apparent from the start. Molloy in two parts, presents the eponymous character in the first and a shadow character, Moran, in the second. How far they are separate characters or alter-egos of each other is unclear. Molloy is a tramp with an articulate disposition, progressively debilitated by physical and mental collapse. He is attempting to walk to his mother’s home. Moran is a detective whose mysterious function is to locate Molloy. What Moran is required to do with Molloy once he has found him - which he never does - is also unclear. Molloy is well-advanced in the progress from Watt’s dottiness. Before his degeneration gathers pace, he even seems urbane and rational.

Part one of Molloy consists of a 500 word first paragraph that is followed by a second paragraph of some 40,000 words. It has hints of autobiographical detail (friends and family could identify Beckett’s childhood Foxrock outside Dublin, and the various amputees brought to mind various members of his family who suffered from diabetes), but it is far from being autobiographical. It has a narrative effectively stripped of place, plot and time. Molloy’s progress is hampered by decline and collapse. He has a sick leg - although the narrator forgets which it is. His testicles trouble him: “they accused me of having made a balls of it, of me, of them”. Of his two eyes, only one functions more or less correctly. His two legs “are as stiff as a life-sentence”. One of his legs begins to shorten and he delights in taking advantage of cambered roads or ditches so as to better achieve equilibrium. In forests, he deliberately proceeds in a circle in order to achieve a straight line.

Humour remains important in this first part of Molloy. Lousse, whose dog Molloy accidentally runs over with his bicycle and kills, has a parrot which Molloy understands better than his mistress.

I mean I understood him better than I understood her. He exclaimed from time to time, Fuck the son of a bitch, fuck the son of a bitch. He must have belonged to an American sailor, before he belonged to Lousse. Pets often change masters. He didn’t say much else. No. I’m wrong, he also said, Putain de merde! He must have belonged to a French sailor before he belonged to the American sailor. Putain de merde! Unless he had hit on it alone, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Famously, Beckett devotes a magisterial six pages (“in order to blacken a few more pages”) to describing how Molloy sets about to arrange a proper sequence for sucking sixteen stones so that the order of their sucking favours each equally, and the detail of this ludicrous task becomes all-absorbing. How they are arranged in the pockets of his greatcoat, what different methods are available for distributing them, then selecting them, call to mind one of Watt’s cogitations where the perfection of the detail overwhelms the reason.

And the solution to which I rallied in the end was to throw away all the stones but one, which I kept now in one pocket, now in another, and which of course I soon lost, or threw away, or gave away, or swallowed. It was a wild part of the coast. I don’t remember having been seriously molested…

Much of this narrative is deliberately mysterious. Beckett was certainly playing with plot and testing the patience and stamina of his readers. By the end of part one, we appreciate that its first 500 word paragraph happened chronologically after the second much longer one. It begins “I am in my mother’s room…I don’t know how I got there”, this being the destination of his tramping in the second paragraph. Beckett’s sabotage of the narrative is key here. He uses negation and contradiction to great effect and there is constant digression (the stones above being a prime example). After an aside about bicycle and motor-car horns, he famously wrote, “This should all be re-written in the pluperfect”, then ponders over what tense to use for life that is over yet still goes on. There are perfunctory interjections. “End of the recall”, after pondering about the state of his feet, is one; “charming things, hypothetical imperatives” another.

Part two of Molloy concentrates on the property-owning, middle class Moran, Jacques Moran, who initially appears to fit in with his neighbours conventionally. He is starchily fastidious, upholding an outward respectability. Although this façade inevitably breaks - most shockingly when Moran, some way into his quest, encounters a complete stranger with no one else about (whose face vaguely resembled his own) and then finds him with “his head in a pulp” without knowing what happened - it is a façade that resolves Moran as sufficiently distinct from Molloy. Of that appalling episode, Beckett has Moran say that “I am sorry I cannot indicate more clearly how this result was obtained, it would have been something worth reading”, a lack of feeling as disturbing as Camus’ opening lines to The Outsider: “Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

Hugh Kenner advanced the view that Molloy was the Irish Beckett, whilst Moran was the French one. The former narrated in a convoluted, oblique fashion, peppered with hesitations and hallucinations; the latter narrated swiftly and logically with idealised reason and clarity. The two narrators finish in more or less the same state of decrepitude, but it is never clear whether they are co-joined in any formal or consistent way, although Beckett had Moran admit that:

Between the Molloy I stalked within me thus and the true Molloy, after whom I was soon to be in full cry, over hill and dale, the resemblance cannot have been great.

Even here the degree of exactitude characteristically lacks sufficiency. Indeed, Beckett followed it by having Moran say that “there were three, no, four Molloys”, to which he shortly after adds a fifth, the first of which “inhabited me”. Beckett knowingly had Moran say that his life was an “inenarrable contraption”, which goes to the heart of the matter, confirming to us that the ‘Trilogy’ is not a narrative in anywhere near a conventional form. It began with Moran stating that “It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows.” It ends, without Moran having located Molloy, with him stating that “It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.” Alvarez, once again, locates the significance of this Molloy/Moran duality”:

The parallels between the two halves of Molloy are only casually meaningful. Molloy and Moran both set forth on their different odysseys, but the real quest happens ultimately inside the author’s own skull. The exterior details are merely excuses for exploring two ways of reaching the same state of collapse. It is not so much a novel as two arias, two utterly disparate voices gradually coming together in one dissonant, dotty chime. (Alvarez, 1973, p.52)

Malone Dies

Malone Dies begins with the character Malone (is that (M)alone?) in bed and incapable of getting out of it. He uses his curved-handle walking stick to move a table on castors between his bedside and the door in order to retrieve food that has been left for him or to slide his two chamber pots into position. Whether the room he occupies is in a hotel, a hospital, a prison or a madhouse is not clear, although near the very end of the book his room becomes a cell and a key is mentioned. Given the narration that ensues, my money is on it being in a madhouse.

As Malone waits for his own death, he tells himself stories. This involves the emergence of the ‘memoirs’ of various characters, the Saposcat family (nominally wisdom and scatology?) and the Lambert family. The background in which they occupy their fragmented lives would seem to be drawn from Beckett’s war-time hiding in Rousillon, in south-east France. The peasant farmer activities of feeding and slaughtering various farm animals are recognisably rural French.

By all accounts, Malone Dies is the book that induced more illness in Beckett than any of his others. Friends thought that his frenzied immersion into its darkness would literally finish him off. (In fact, he underwent profound elation once he finished working on it.) It is as if Beckett had excavated childhood and war-time memories to scatter into the plot-less narrative of the book. Sapo, with his phlegmatism, “his silent ways” and palest blue gull’s eyes “got out of hand”, Beckett later admitted, meaning his inclusion of aspects of himself in the character had pulled him into the book more than he had wanted or planned. The first person pronoun peppers the text to an unusual degree.

Much as these different personal narratives blur into each other, cross-over, back-track and return, they are driven forward by an extraordinarily assured prose style, at once wild and troubling and at other times serene. Mrs Saposcat ponders on her son Sapo’s love of nature:

But he loved the flight of the hawk and could distinguish it from all others. He would stand rapt, gazing at the long pernings, the quivering poise, the wings lifted for the plummet drop, the wild reascent, fascinated by such extremes of need, of pride, of patience and solitude.

Malone, shorn of all assumed personae and supine, continues his narration:

And during all this time, so fertile in incidents and mishaps, in my head I suppose all was streaming and emptying away as through a sluice, to my great joy, until finally nothing remained, either of Malone or of the other… And it is without excessive sorrow that I see us again as we are, namely to be removed grain by grain until the hand, wearied, begins to play, scooping us up and letting us trickle back into the same place, dreamily as the saying is. For I knew it would be so, even as I said. At last! And I must say that to me at least and for as long as I can remember the sensation is familiar of a blind and tired hand delving feebly in my particles and letting them trickle between its fingers. And sometimes, when all is quiet, I feel it plunged in me up to the elbow, but gentle, and as though sleeping. But soon it stirs, wakes, fondles, clutches, ransacks, ravages, avenging its failure to scatter me with one sweep.

Beckett seems to be weaving geriatric hallucinations, using Malone’s mind within a stilled physicality to move feverishly through his past and present life. It is, as he admits, “a ballsaching poppycock about life and death…for nothing was ever about anything else to the best of my recollection”, apparently blurring the divide between Beckett and Malone.

We try to ground ourselves, explaining away these images as issuing from fever or from lunacy. It’s hard to tell which.

But suddenly all begins to rage and roar again, you are lost in forests of high threshing ferns or whirled far out on the face of wind-swept wastes, till you begin to wonder if you have not died without knowing and gone to hell or been born again into an even worse place than before.

Malone’s process of departing this life - “let us first defunge”, as Beckett has it - involves mind and body in equal measure:

All strains towards the nearest deeps, and notably my feet, which even in the ordinary way are so much further from me than all the rest, from my head I mean, for that is where I am fled, my feet are leagues away. And to call them in, to be cleaned for example, would I think take me over a month, exclusive of the time required to locate them. Strange, I don’t feel my feet any more, my feet feel nothing any more, and a mercy it is. And yet I feel they are beyond the range of the most powerful telescope… But my fingers too write in other latitudes and the air that breathes through my pages and turns them without my knowing, when I doze off, so that the subject falls far from the verb and the object lands somewhere in the void, is not the air of this second-last abode, and a mercy it is. And perhaps on my hands it is the shimmer of the shadows of leaves and flowers and the brightness of a forgotten sun.

With the Saposcats and Lamberts more or less passed over, Beckett introduces more possible alter-egos, names more than characters. Macmann, his keeper Moll and Lemuel (a biblical Samuel?), appear in fragments, perhaps as attendants or nurses. Vegetation and the sea itself thrash about, reminiscent of one of van Gogh’s more troubled canvases.

Macmann pygmy beneath the great black gesticulating pines gazes at the distant raging sea. The others are there too, or at their windows, like me, but on their feet, they must be able to move, or to be moved, no, not like me, they can’t do anything for anybody, clinging to the shivering poplars, or at their windows, listening.

As Malone approached his own death he experiences something like a birth, but one from the viewpoint of the foetal Beckett, a harrowing vision of constriction, noise and emergence into bright light.

Grandiose suffering. I am swelling. What if I should burst? The ceiling rises and falls, rises and falls, rhythmically, as when I was a foetus. Also to be mentioned a noise of rushing water, phenomenon mutatis mutandis perhaps analogous to that of the mirage, in the desert. The window. I shall not see it again. Why? Because, to my grief, I cannot turn my head. Leaden light again, thick, eddying, riddled with little tunnels through to brightness, perhaps I should say air, sucking air. All is ready. Except me. I am being given, if I may venture the expression, birth to into death, such is my impression. The feet are clear already, of the great cunt of existence. Favourable presentation I trust. My head will be the last to cue? Haul in your hands. I can’t. The render rent. My story ended I’ll be living yet.

This is followed by a breaking apart of the narrative in a mingling of surreal nightmare, hallucination and recollection. There’s an excursion in a wagonette, a short sea crossing in a boat (this unidentified island makes a reappearance in The Unnamable), flailing fellow travellers, a bloodied hatchet and at the end when it seems as if two films have been simultaneously projected onto the same screen - one of a picnic overlooking the shore, the other of a boatload of lunatics - the narrative diminishes to a dribble of poetic fragmentation as Malone’s monologue finally comes to an end.

The Unnamable

There’s a hilarious exchange between Melvyn Bragg and his guests on the BBC Radio 4 In Our Time episode of January 2019 which was devoted to Samuel Beckett when he asked Laura Salisbury (at about the 17 minute mark) to summarise Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, which she does with some aplomb, first invoking Vivian Mercier’s pithy observation that it was a play “in which nothings happens twice”. If only The Unnamable could be addressed so succinctly. The same contributor goes on to describe how Beckett’s writing of the French original of the book comes to a stop at the very end of the notebook that Beckett had been writing in. She describes Beckett’s writing (at about the 31 minute mark) as a sort of oozing that needed a notebook’s back cover to bring it to an end. Its final paragraph runs to 112 pages, a prose summit compared to the textual foothill of the first part of Molloy.

The near plot-less The Unnamable, replete with almost nothing happening at all, is therefore the hardest book in the ‘Trilogy’ to read and to summarise. This is the volume that will test your enthusiasm for Beckett’s prose. The critic A. Alvarez considered Beckett’s later prose (the ‘Trilogy’ included) to be laboratories in which Beckett “carries out his experiments undisturbed by any audience”. “His language”, he continued, “is the prose writer’s equivalent of the advanced metallurgy of space flight: a medium that is neutral, almost weightless, yet able to withstand enormous stress”. Although the critic had in mind more Beckett’s later How It Is, The Unnamable marked the start of Beckett’s refinement of prose as a lucid medium to convey life-in-death. “Technically”, Alvarez sates, The Unnamable “is a stage-by-stage assassination of the novel in all the forms in which it is traditionally received”.

It also represents a near (but not total) falling away of the narrator’s various alter-egos. Mahood is the first to carry the monologue. It is then advanced by Worm. They are the tail-enders of Beckett’s perpetual “troop of lunatics”, “a ponderous chronicle of moribunds”. They successively occupy a degenerating bodily presence in a large jar opposite a chop-house in the shambles area of town, attended to by a Marguerite, or maybe a Madeleine. The end point of the narrator’s death is inevitable but the route to it involves his characteristic air of detached hauteur, frequently laced with sardonic humour:

Perhaps some day some gentleman, chancing to pass my way with his sweetheart on his arm, at the precise moment when my last is favouring me with a final smack of the flight of time, will exclaim, loud enough for me to hear. Oh I say, this man is ailing, we must call an ambulance! Thus with a single stone, when all hope seemed lost, the two rare birds. I shall be dead, but I shall have lived. Unless one is to suppose him victim of a hallucination. Yes, to dispel all doubt his betrothed would need to say. You are right, my love, he looks as if he is going to throw up. Then I’d know for certain and giving up the ghost be born at last to the sound perhaps of one of those hiccups which mar alas too often the solemnity of the passing. When Mahood I once knew a doctor who held that scientifically speaking the latest breath could only issue from the fundament and this therefore, rather than the mouth, the orifice to which the family should present the mirror, before opening the will.

The Unnamable may not have been intended as the third in a trilogy, but it bears all the trademarks of the previous two volumes. The narrator faces his diminishing circumstances with a learned and sardonic detachment; he suppresses his alter-egos but they rise up repeatedly; and the narration is endlessly subject to sabotaging interjections. “I could also do, incidentally, with future and conditional participles” which, of course, don’t exist in English. A declaration to continue the narrative only in the third person holds good for nine pages before the “I” perspective returns with the inevitable intrusion of alter-egos. There is also a prose refinement manifesting itself in longer sentences broken into shorter phrases which, in places, take on the rhythm of short-winded breathing, a technique equalled (whether intentionally or not) in Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (another Nobel laureate whose PhD thesis happened to be a computer-aided stylistic analysis of Beckett’s English prose). Above all, there is the author’s commanding voice, utterly in control even as his various personae spin out of control.

As the alter-egos and surrogates fall away and “the beleaguerers have departed”, the closing pages of The Unnamable feel like an expiatory process, a casting aside of previously adopted personas, resulting in “this dust of words, with no ground for their settling”. As the familiar digressions nearly cease, the prose squeezes itself towards the last corner of the notebook’s final page, with the narrator leaving himself behind in the silence, before an opening door. The prose is crystalline, purged of adornment, transcendent.

The ‘Trilogy’ as a whole

Beckett’s posthumously published letters show repeated instances of his unfailing kindness and deep generosity. His kindness to researchers, directors, translators, fellow writers, painters, unknown admirers who contacted him - and even publishers - was also notable. Biographies on the man are dotted with instances of his fierce loyalty to friends and their families. James Knowlson described Beckett’s generosity as being a deep compulsion to offer help. He, for example, famously gave away most of the money awarded to him as part of his Nobel Prize for literature. Another example of Beckett’s generosity was recounted to one of his biographers, Deidre Bair, by the critic Claude Jamer. Beckett was in a cafe in Montparnasse in the 1950s when a tramp admired the jacket he was wearing; Beckett took it off and gave it to the tramp “without emptying the pockets either”.

These personal impressions contrast sharply with those that the writer created in the 1930s and during the war when he was often said to be silent or acerbic, gloomy and taciturn. This change seems to have been made possible by Beckett’s “frenzy of writing” which produced the ‘Trilogy’ and Godot, the French version of which he wrote in 1948. The growth of Beckett’s stature as a writer and his transit out of the influence of James Joyce - who died in 1941 - appear to have played a part in this. If the writing process still caused him internal angst - and even physical illness - no longer was this directed outwards to those who knew him.

The increasing spareness of Beckett’s prose as the ‘Trilogy’ progresses was a development that gathered pace as his prose output continued, with short pieces emerging from his desk with diminishing frequency. The close of The Unnamable is given a poignant and contrasting echo in the second of his Quatre Poèmes published in 1968, conveying a yearning for a form of rest that is no longer elusive:

my way is in the sand flowing
between the shingle and the dune
the summer rain rains on my life
on me my life harrying fleeing
to its beginning to its end

my peace is there in the receding mist
when I may cease from treading these long shifting thresholds
and live the space of a door
that opens and shuts

‘Inexpugnable’ academic pursuits

The notable spawning of surrogates in Beckett’s narrative endeavour is matched and then exceeded by the proliferation of academic studies centred on his extraordinary output. Towards the end of Malone Dies, Moran, dragging himself homewards towards his beloved bees and hens, hears a mysterious buzzing of bees, “determinants of which I had not the slightest idea”. He said, “with rapture, Here is something I can study all my life, and never understand”. So too with us readers and Beckett’s work itself. Bees, however, should not feel that the advantage is theirs alone. Flies - in relation to Beckett’s work - have attracted academic attention as well. A cursory trawl through The Samuel Beckett Research Centre’s website gives a glimpse of other fields currently being peered into. (A pilgrimage is necessary, me thinks.) Trends for recent years include Beckett and the Environment, Beckett and Europe (Quite! What would Beckett have thought of the EU and of Brexit?), the aesthetics of suffering, posthumanism, chess, chess and schizophrenia, psycho-pathologies, humour (naturally), spirituality and music, artificial anuses (phew, nearly missed this one; James Joyce would have approved), psychiatric conceptions of language and the phenomenology of doodles are just the tip of the iceberg. Beckett would have stood a round of drinks on this news, no doubt. The equivocal nature of Beckett’s work is the point here, isn’t it? Long may these endeavours be as inexpugnable as Worm in The Unnamable.

Reading list

  • A. Alvarez, Samuel Beckett; Viking Press, 1973.
  • Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett: A Biography; Vintage/Ebury, 1978.
  • Samuel Beckett, Proust and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit; Calder and Boyars, 1970.
  • Samuel Beckett, Murphy; Jupiter Books, 1963.
  • Samuel Beckett, Watt; Calderbook, 1976.
  • Samuel Beckett, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable; Calder and Boyars, 1973.
  • Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot; Faber and Faber, 1968.
  • Samuel Beckett, How It Is; Calder and Boyars, 1964.
  • Samuel Beckett, Poems in English; Calder and Boyers, 1968.
  • Samuel Beckett, Imagination Dead Imagine; Calder and Boyars, 1971.
  • Steven Connor, Beckett and Bion;
  • Hugh Kenner, Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study; Grove Press, 1961.
  • Hugh Kenner, The Stoic Comedians: Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett; W.H. Allen, 1964, (illustrated by Guy Davenport)
  • Hugh Kenner, A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett; Thames and Hudson, 1973.
  • James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett; Bloomsbury, 1996.
  • A.J. Leventhal (Ed.), Beckett at Sixty: a Festschrift; Calder and Boyers,1967.
  • Vivian Mercier, Beckett / Beckett; Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • Christopher Murray (Ed.), Samuel Beckett: Playwright and Poet; Pegasus Books, 2009.
  • Katharine Worth (Ed.), Beckett the Shape Changer: a Symposium; Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975.

(This post was first published in scant form on 8th February 2014 and subsequently updated 1st November 2019.)

[Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett are available in the UK from]

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