Beckett, Samuel Barclay
Beckett, Samuel Barclay
- James Knowlson
Samuel Barclay Beckett (1906–1989)
Beckett, Samuel Barclay (1906–1989), author, was born on 13 April 1906 at Cooldrinagh, Kerrymount Avenue, Foxrock, co. Dublin, the second of two children of William Frank Beckett (1871–1933), a quantity surveyor, and his wife, Maria, known as May (1871–1950), daughter of Samuel Roe, a miller of Newbridge in co. Kildare, and his wife, Annie. He was descended from middle-class, solidly protestant, Anglo-Irish stock. William Beckett was an affectionate father and a charming, clubbable, 'absolutely non-intellectual' man, as his son described him (Knowlson, 10), who left his case of Dickens and encyclopaedias unopened. The fiercely independent, strong-willed Beckett had a much more difficult relationship with his protective, equally strong-willed mother, whose 'savage loving' at times overwhelmed him. On the whole he grew up happily in prosperous Foxrock, a village close enough to Dublin for businessmen to commute by train, but rural enough for Beckett to take himself off into the countryside to wander or read alone. He was a fearless, adventurous boy, later an intrepid motorcyclist and an excellent sportsman.
Early years and education
After attending a small kindergarten school run by Miss Ida and Miss Pauline Elsner in nearby Stillorgan, Beckett went to private schools, first Earlsfort House in Dublin, then Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, co. Fermanagh, where his elder brother, Frank, was already a boarder. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1923 and read French and Italian in the modern European literature course. It is often forgotten that he also studied English literature for two years with the Shakespeare scholar Professor Wilbraham Fitzjohn Trench. In 1927 he obtained a first-class degree with a gold medal, doing outstandingly well in French, under his true mentor at Trinity College, Professor Thomas Brown Rudmose-Brown, who inspired Beckett's love of Ronsard, Scève, Petrarch, and Racine, as well as introducing him to a wide range of modern French poets. Beckett also took Italian classes from a private tutor, Bianca Esposito, who took him through Dante's Divina commedia. Dante's great poem was a constant source of fascination and a great inspiration to him. While he was at Trinity College, he had his first experience of love in the person of a scintillating, brilliant young woman, Ethna MacCarthy, also a pupil of Rudmose-Brown. Although he adored her and she inspired two of his most beautiful poems, 'Alba' and 'Yoke of liberty', she did not reciprocate his love—though they remained friends for the rest of her life. After graduating he taught French for two terms at Campbell College, Belfast, an experience which he disliked intensely. To his parents' horror he then had a serious love affair with his first cousin, Ruth Margaret (Peggy) Sinclair.
In November 1928 Beckett took up a post as lecteur d'anglais (teaching assistant in English) in Paris at the distinguished École Normale Supérieure in the rue d'Ulm. He became friendly in the capital with the self-exiled Irish writer James Joyce. Beckett was strongly influenced by the force of Joyce's personality, by the range of his culture, and by his total dedication to his art. Joyce's example inspired him to write. But, although aware from an early stage that he needed to discover his own distinctive voice, he found it extremely difficult at first to escape from Joyce's stylistic influence: 'I vow I will get over J. J. ere I die. Yessir', he wrote in 1931 to Samuel Putnam.
While living in Paris Beckett wrote (and saw published) a prize-winning poem about Descartes called Whoroscope (1930). He also published his first two critical essays, one (guided in his reading by Joyce) on early sections of what was to become Finnegans Wake, entitled 'Dante … Bruno. Vico … Joyce' (transition, 1929), the other a brilliant, precocious study of Proust, published in 1931. He returned to Dublin in autumn 1930 to take up a lectureship in French at Trinity College, where he lectured on Racine, Molière, the Romantic poets, Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust, Gide, and Bergson. He was, however, pathologically shy and detested the self-exposure that lecturing involved. Always a stern auto-critic, he also regarded this activity as 'teaching others what he did not know himself'. So he resigned his appointment after only four terms and set out instead to become a writer, translator, and literary journalist.
After a short stay with Peggy Sinclair's family in Kassel early in 1932, Beckett returned to live in Paris, where, installed for six months in the Trianon Palace Hotel, he wrote the major part of a novel entitled Dream of Fair to Middling Women, begun in Dublin a year earlier. He failed to get the book published at the time, however, and it appeared posthumously in 1992. It is a clever, probably much too clever, linguistic extravaganza, full of reworked literary quotations. But it overturns most of the conventions of traditional fiction and is a remarkable bravura performance for so young a man. Because of a clamp-down on foreigners, Beckett found that he had to leave Paris and, desperately short of money, he returned home via London to a family situation where he found himself in constant conflict with his concerned but dominant mother.
Just two months after the death of Peggy Sinclair from tuberculosis, Beckett's father died on 26 June 1933, leaving him feeling guilty and depressed—primarily at having let down his father by resigning from his academic post. He was suffering from panic and a racing heart, which had disturbed him in a milder form ever since his student days; his troubles were diagnosed as likely to be mental in origin, and he was forced to go to England to seek psychological help in London (psychoanalysis was not permitted in Dublin at the time). He underwent psychotherapy for almost two years with Wilfred Rupert Bion at the Tavistock Clinic. During this period, Beckett also read books on psychology and psychoanalysis by Freud, Stekel, Adler, Jones, and Rank. He several times visited the Bethlem Royal Hospital, where an old Portora schoolfriend worked as a doctor. Beckett's own experience of psychotherapy and his enduring interest in schizophrenia, obsessional neuroses, and other forms of mental disturbance had a deep impact on his later prose fiction and plays. Although he had turned his back earlier on an academic career, he remained a scholar at heart, reading widely in the mid-1930s on philosophy, literature, and science; most of his philosophy notes have been preserved. From this date on, his writings had a strong philosophical infrastructure.
In 1934 Beckett published More Pricks than Kicks, a collection of ten witty and satirical short stories about an Irish intellectual called Belacqua Shuah, borrowing the name of Belacqua from Dante's indolent figure in the Purgatorio. He had also used the name in Dream of Fair to Middling Women and recycled some of the abandoned Dream material in More Pricks than Kicks. In 1935 he assembled the best of his erudite but highly personal poems into a slim volume entitled Echo's Bones and other Precipitates. He also tried to create a name for himself in literary circles by contributing poems and book reviews to The Spectator, The Bookman, and The Criterion. But both the poems and the reviews tended to be learned and obscure, and he had scant success.
During his stay in London for psychotherapy Beckett began a novel, set in London and Dublin, called Murphy. Completed by June 1936, this was turned down by dozens of publishers and was not published until 1938. An intellectual, comic novel of ideas, Murphy is probably one of Beckett's least experimental works. Yet it still deals with some of his most persistent themes: the uneasy relationship of mind and body and the desire to escape from the 'big blooming buzzing confusion' (Beckett, Murphy, 245) of a world of ambition, aspiration, and will, to seek out instead a state of quietistic peace.
In 1936–7, dogged by ill health, Beckett toured Nazi Germany, indulging his passionate interest in painting and sculpture. On returning home he became involved in a celebrated court case when he acted as chief witness for his uncle, Harry Sinclair, who had been libelled by Oliver St John Gogarty. While standing up for his uncle's good name, he was publicly humiliated as the 'bawd and blasphemer from Paris'. After a blazing row with his mother he left Ireland to settle down finally in Paris, where on 5 January 1938 he was stabbed by a pimp. When his assailant met Beckett in court, he told him that he did not know why he had done it. Beckett had been in a coma for a few hours and, although the knife had narrowly missed his heart, he was seriously ill for some time.
Before and after the stabbing Beckett had a number of affairs. One was with the American art collector and heiress Peggy Guggenheim, who admitted that she was 'entirely obsessed for over a year by the strange creature, Samuel Beckett' (P. Guggenheim, Out of this Century, 1980, 167); they had a turbulent sexual relationship which evolved into a strange friendship. Another was with the Frenchwoman Suzanne Georgette Anna Deschevaux-Dumesnil (1901–1989), an accomplished pianist. He had met Suzanne some ten years before, and when she learned of his stabbing from a newspaper she visited him several times in hospital. They were soon living together at 6 rue des Favorites but did not marry until 1961.
Although Beckett described the period just before the outbreak of the Second World War as a 'period of lostness, drifting around, seeing a few friends—a period of apathy and lethargy' (Knowlson, 295), he was evolving specifically as a French writer. In 1938–9 he wrote some poems in French and translated Murphy with the help of a friend, Alfred Péron, who had been the French lecteur during Beckett's final year as a student.
After the fall of France in June 1940 Péron introduced Beckett, supposedly neutral as an Irishman, to a local resistance cell, Gloria SMH, which was in secret touch with London. Beckett worked as a liaison officer and translator, receiving and passing on messages from various agents, first to a photographer for microfilming, then to a courier to be taken over the line into the unoccupied zone. But the cell was infiltrated, and in August 1942 its members were betrayed by a French priest, Robert Alesch, who was working for the German Abwehr. Many members of the group were arrested and deported to concentration camps but, forewarned by Péron's wife, Beckett and Suzanne managed to escape with hours to spare. After spending several weeks on the run, they lived out the rest of the war in the little village of Roussillon in the Vaucluse, where Beckett wrote his extraordinary novel Watt, partly as a stylistic exercise and partly in order to stay sane in a place where he was cut off from most intellectual pursuits. Written in English, it was a daring linguistic experiment and, because of its strange subject matter as well as its manner, was not published until 1953. After the war he was decorated with the medals of the Croix de Guerre and the médaille de la Reconnaissance Française. Characteristically, he told nobody about these decorations—not even his closest friends.
'A frenzy of writing'
After the war Beckett returned to Ireland to see his mother, but in order to obtain permission to return to France to join Suzanne he volunteered to work as an interpreter and storekeeper at the Irish Red Cross hospital in the Normandy town of St Lô, which had been devastated by allied bombing and shelling after the D-day landings. He returned to Paris to endure the most poverty-stricken years of his life. At this time he engaged in a remarkable 'frenzy of writing' in French, while Suzanne worked at dressmaking and gave music lessons in an attempt to make ends meet.
The war had a lasting effect on Beckett's personal philosophy and his writing. Many aspects of his later works were born out of his experiences of uncertainty, disorientation, danger, deprivation, and exile. While visiting his mother in Foxrock he also had a 'revelation' which marked something of a turning point in how he approached his writing: 'Molloy and the others came to me the day I became aware of my own folly. Only then did I begin to write the things I feel' (Graver and Federman, 217). He recognized earlier that he had to divorce himself from Joyce's stylistic influence. Now he realized that he had to follow a radically different path from Joyce, who believed that knowledge was a creative way of understanding and controlling the world. Beckett's 'own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than adding' (Knowlson, 352). Light, knowledge, understanding, and success were replaced by darkness, impotence, ignorance, and failure. Beckett also realized that he needed to draw on the turmoil and uncertainty of his own inner consciousness rather than on the external, ‘real’ world; contradictions would be allowed greater freedom; the imagination would be given the scope to construct alternative worlds. To express this vision Beckett rejected some of the techniques that he had followed earlier. Writing in French allowed him to achieve a greater simplicity and objectivity. His prose was no longer full of the densely layered quotations and erudite allusions of his English prose of the 1930s.
Beckett's first novel in French, Mercier et Camier was finished in 1946. He regarded it later as an apprentice work and was unwilling to have it published until 1970. It was, however, something of a sourcebook for his later writing and allowed him to experiment with dialogue, preparing him for his excursions into drama. At the beginning of 1947 he wrote his first full-length play in French, Eleutheria—the title being a Greek word for freedom. He was very insistent throughout his life that this should be neither published nor performed, perhaps because it contained certain autobiographical features or had some flaws in its construction. As a result the play was published only after his death.
Beckett's financial situation and his health were precarious immediately after the war. But he wrote frenetically and in French. He completed the novel trilogy Molloy (1951), Malone meurt (Malone Dies) (1951), and L'innommable (The Unnamable) (1953), on which, with his play En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot), so much of his reputation as an innovator and a master stylist in French and English rests. For, unusually, Beckett himself translated most of his prose texts and his plays from one language into the other, working in both directions and re-creating the work each time in the other language. The novels and novellas of the post-war years showed how much the revelation in his mother's house had affected his writing. Characters blend into each other; clues followed, as if in a detective novel, lead nowhere; radical uncertainties about the world and the self predominate; philosophical, psychological, literary, or artistic motifs are no longer used allusively but are integrated into the structure of the work. Suzanne carried the original French manuscripts of the novels around a variety of publishers and, after dozens of refusals, a young publisher, Jérôme Lindon, at the Éditions de Minuit finally accepted them.
Waiting for Godot was first written in French between October 1948 and January 1949. Beckett's theatrical imagery for this play is stark and minimalist. Two tramp-clowns, Estragon and Vladimir, wait for someone called Godot to come. They hope that his visit will 'save' them. In the meantime they fill in 'the terrible silence that is waiting to flood into this play like water into a sinking ship' (Beckett) with banter and repeated actions. Two other passers-by (Pozzo and Lucky) arrive to provide a distraction (and display a view of life as a series of purposeless movements). After the visitors have left, a boy messenger comes to inform them that Mr Godot will not come today, but will certainly come tomorrow. The same pattern is repeated with significant variations in the second act: Lucky has become mute; Pozzo has gone blind. But a boy messenger returns to convey the same message about Mr Godot. Such apparent simplicity disguises some profound themes: life's brevity and its pain; the human need for something to confer meaning on a mysterious existence; in its absence, a compensatory need for friendship to protect and sustain, yet fail to satisfy; a Cartesian concern with the uneasy interplay of mind and body; and, above all, a radical uncertainty which characterizes every aspect of the two friends' lives. Man is seen, in Beckett's own words, as a 'non-know-er, a non-can-er'. The French actor–director Roger Blin, again contacted by Suzanne, then by Lindon, eventually managed to raise enough money to put on En attendant Godot at the tiny Théâtre de Babylone in Paris in January 1953. The extraordinary success of this first production in French was responsible for Beckett's rise to worldwide fame, as the play rapidly became an object of intense international interest and controversy. The first production of Beckett's own English translation, directed by Peter Hall, was staged at the Arts Theatre Club in London in August 1955. Kenneth Tynan's and Harold Hobson's reviews made it into an intellectual hit which has since been regarded as having transformed the British stage.
With money left to him by his mother Beckett had a small country house built near Ussy-sur-Marne outside Paris. For the first time in his adult life he also found himself comfortably off owing to the success of Waiting for Godot. In 1954 he lost his brother to cancer. He was with Frank until the end in what was one of the most devastating experiences of his life. Soon after this, however, he felt the return of his creative energy and wrote a first draft of Fin de partie (Endgame), a play profoundly marked by his brother's death. It was premiered in French in London on 3 April 1957.
In 1956, at the request of the BBC, Beckett wrote a radio play, All that Fall. It drew on memories of his protestant childhood and his later abandoned faith. While writing the play Beckett was plunged into a state of depression, but the play itself is full of wit and vitality. He was further shattered by news that Ethna MacCarthy, married by then to one of his closest friends, A. J. Leventhal, was dying of cancer. But memories of her, combined with a number of related themes—a gnostic contrast of light and dark; the relationship with one's former self; an exploration of similarity and difference in human life—inspired his short play Krapp's Last Tape. At about this time he began a long-term relationship with Barbara Bray (1924–2010), a script editor at the BBC, with whom he remained on very close terms for the rest of his life, while never leaving his wife, Suzanne. He received an honorary degree of DLitt from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1959.
Beckett started writing the play Happy Days (1961) in October 1960 and it opened on 1 November 1962. As in all Beckett's plays, philosophical concerns take the form of striking theatrical images. In this play a woman is buried up to her waist in act i and up to her neck in act ii: 'a new stage metaphor for the old human condition—burial in a dying earth, exposure under a ruthless sun' (Cohn, The Comic Gamut), as the sands of time literally engulf her. Krapp's Last Tape and Play tend to 'destabilize and disperse' (Lawley) individual identity in plays which are built on a clever use of monologue. Yet we respond first at a human level to the physical, the concrete, and the visual. Only then do we move to the philosophical significance of the images, actions, or words.
Beckett felt that, because of its very physical, corporeal nature, theatre inevitably involved compromise. In his post-war prose fiction he was less restricted in exploring his deepest concerns. He was freer to explore and attempt to express being, which for him was chaotic, formless, enigmatic, and mysterious. Language is form and form represents an obstacle to capturing being. Form is a sign of strength, whereas Beckett was seeking what he once referred to as a 'syntax of weakness'. So breaking down the traditional forms of fictional and theatrical structure and language became an essential element in a bold attempt to express such formless being. The novel trilogy, and Comment c'est (How It Is) (1961) in particular, deal with issues of consciousness and the self. For to talk of the self one must objectify that self, hence create a self which is different from the one doing the observing or the describing. This results in a constantly receding series of observers or storytellers, voices or listeners.
On 25 March 1961 Beckett secretly married Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil in Folkestone. He wanted Suzanne to inherit the rights to works whose publication she had tirelessly arranged. But he continued to see Barbara Bray, who had moved to live in Paris. His next play, Play (1964), parodied the conventional responses of a man and two women involved in an emotional triangle.
In the mid-1960s Beckett's theatre commitments became very taxing. From that time on he directed his own plays both for the stage and for television. Chiefly he directed at the Schiller-Theater in Berlin and in the studios of Süddeutscher Rundfunk in Stuttgart, but also in Paris and London. In his own productions he refined his plays in the light of theatrical practicalities, introducing many small cuts and changes to his texts. Beckett's own theatrical notebooks prove that he was an excellent choreographer, with a talent for what he described as 'form in movement'. He also worked in New York on a film, entitled Film (1965), starring Buster Keaton and directed by his American director friend Alan Schneider; and on a play for television, Eh Joe (1967). While receiving treatment for what turned out to be a benign tumour in the roof of his mouth, he wrote a short play in English, Come and Go (1967), in which three women comment on their illnesses or imminent deaths.
During this same period Beckett wrote a number of spare, minimalist prose texts in French. Imagination morte imaginez (Imagination Dead Imagine) (1965) is set in a white rotunda in which two figures exist like embryos waiting for birth or extinction. In Le dépeupleur (The Lost Ones) (1971) a larger cylinder is inhabited by 200 people who live out a strictly regulated Dantesque existence. Bing (Ping in English) (1966) features a single figure in a small white cube. These works come very close to being formalist constructs, creating alternative worlds. Yet the texts are powerful as well as enigmatic and, in spite of all appearances, they do draw from and reflect on the ‘real’ world. What remains of consciousness in a world where all is reduced? How can the imagination persist when it seems already to have died? Such ‘residua’ are attempts to continue expressing in a world of receding possibilities where one of the major restrictions is an acute awareness of the inadequacy of language to express.
Beckett's plays of the 1970s come much closer to basic human concerns: in Not I (1973), a Mouth high in the darkness spews out words in an unstoppable stream—the theatrical equivalent of a Munch-like scream of despair; in Footfalls (1976) we are confronted by an image of distress and loss in the person of May, literally 'revolving it all in her poor mind', as she paces across the stage; in That Time (1976) the discontinuity of self, yet persistence of a basic consciousness, is revealed in a verbal kaleidoscope of images from different periods of the narrator's life. The central visual image, often inspired by particular paintings of the old masters (Giorgione, Rembrandt, Antonello, Dürer), is crucial to the dramatic effect. Yet Beckett combines words and visual images in a highly innovative way, as he explores what is essential to theatre for it still to remain theatre.
In the early 1980s Beckett produced for a Beckett conference in Ohio a play called Ohio Impromptu (1981), which, with its two almost identical, gowned figures sitting at a table, resembles a Rembrandt or a Terborch painting. He also wrote the beautiful short play Rockaby (1981), in which a woman dressed in black is rocked backwards and forwards in a chair to the rhythm of her recorded voice. Her recorded words take the form of a poem. From time to time the live figure repeats the line 'Time she stopped' in synchronicity with the recording. Billie Whitelaw, one of Beckett's favourite actresses, played the woman in its first production.
In 1980 Company, a highly original prose text, first written in English, was published. Although there are autobiographical reminiscences, especially from Beckett's childhood, it is in no sense a conventional autobiography, for the text revolves around some of his most basic themes: solitude, loneliness, the unreliability of memory, uncertainties to do with both the self and the other. Another woman in black is recalled by the narrator of the prose piece Mal vu mal dit (Ill Seen Ill Said), written in French and published in 1981. Surrounded by twelve shadowy figures, the woman is drawn to a stone that resembles a white tombstone. Then, this time in English, and partly inspired by Edgar's speech in King Lear, 'The worst is not so long as one can say, This is the worst', he wrote another quite extraordinary prose piece, Worstward Ho (1983), about the will to 'fail better'. Though concerned with the failure of language, it achieves a chilling vibrancy in its stark prose. Stirrings Still (1988) was Beckett's last prose text, although his final piece of writing was a poem, Comment dire (What is the Word) (1989), written after he had regained consciousness in a hospital following a fall.
As a young man Beckett was shy, taciturn, and self-absorbed. In later life he became far more genial and was noted for his kindness and his generosity towards others. Although witty, warm, and friendly with close friends, he was never gregarious and hated invasions of his privacy. He refused to be interviewed or to have any part in promoting his books. His physical appearance was very striking: he was 6 feet tall, with a face like an Aztec eagle, piercing blue eyes, large ears, and spiky hair.
Beckett's interests were highly intellectual. He read widely in English, French, Italian, and German literature. In his late twenties and early thirties he read a lot of philosophy: the pre-Socratics, Plato, Descartes, and the occasionalists, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant. His interest in the painting of the old masters and in sculpture remained with him throughout his life and he was a friend of many modern painters, in particular Bram and Geer van Velde, Henri Hayden, and Avigdor Arikha. He owned paintings by all these artists. He was a good pianist, who loved Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart and attended concerts and recitals with his wife, who was also an excellent pianist. He did not generally like opera, but he did go to see several ballets in the 1930s. Music and painting were probably among the most important influences on Beckett's own writing, and his late work for the stage appears sometimes closer to painting or sculpture than it does to traditional theatre.
In his political views Beckett was broadly left-wing and anti-establishment, although not a communist. He felt a natural sympathy for the underdog, the victim, the down-and-out, and the prisoner. He never allowed his art, however, to become part of any political agenda, although he wrote one play, Catastrophe, in 1982 for the Czech dissident writer Václav Havel, then under house arrest, who later became president of Czechoslovakia. He was a firm supporter of human rights movements throughout the world and a fierce opponent of all forms of censorship and repression.
Beckett's health, which had so often been precarious, began to decline seriously in 1986 with the onset of respiratory troubles soon diagnosed as emphysema. In the following year, being deprived of oxygen, he had several falls, and in the summer of 1988, after falling badly, he went to live in a modest nursing home, called Le Tiers Temps (the Third Age). He was taken ill again on 6 December and died in the Hôpital St Anne in Paris of respiratory failure on 22 December 1989. After a small private funeral he was buried with his wife, who had died fewer than six months before, in the cemetery of Montparnasse, Paris, on 26 December.
Beckett changed the entire face of post-war theatre and also inspired many modern painters and video or installation artists. His prose, too, was immensely influential. He is often described as a pessimist or nihilist, and it would be wrong to understate the sombre nature of his dark vision. Yet such categorizations are wholly inadequate. They ignore the persistent need of the characters in his fiction and his drama to go resolutely, stoically on. They also ignore the humour which is a major feature of what might be called his early and middle periods. Beckett was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1969: 'For his writing which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation' (citation). And it is easy to ignore a positive, almost cathartic effect that may be gained from laughing at the worst that life can throw at you or from merely enduring it in a brave, perhaps even an uplifting way.
- personal knowledge (2004)
- private information (2004) [heirs, family, and friends]
- L. Harvey, notes of interviews, 1960×69, Dartmouth College, Baker Library
- J. Knowlson, Damned to fame: the life of Samuel Beckett (1996)
- S. Beckett, More pricks than kicks (1934)
- S. Beckett, Murphy (1938)
- S. Beckett, Molloy, Malone dies, The unnamable (1959)
- S. Beckett, Collected shorter plays (1984)
- S. Beckett, Collected shorter prose, 1945–1980 (1988)
- citation for the Nobel prize for literature, 1969, Nobel Foundation
- R. Federman and J. Fletcher, Samuel Beckett: his works and his critics (1970)
- L. Graver and R. Federman, Samuel Beckett: the critical heritage (1979)
- J. Knowlson and J. Pilling, Frescoes of the skull: the recent prose and drama of Samuel Beckett (1979)
- R. Cohn, The comic gamut (1962)
- R. Cohn, Just play: Beckett's theater (1980)
- P. Chabert, ed., Revue d'Esthétique (1986) [special Beckett issue]
- L. E. Harvey, Samuel Beckett: poet and critic (1970)
- H. Kenner, Samuel Beckett: a critical study (1968)
- C. Lake, ed., No symbols where none intended (1984)
- P. Lawley, ‘From Krapp's last tape to Play’, The Cambridge companion to Beckett, ed. J. Pilling (1994)
- C. Locatelli, Unwording the world: Samuel Beckett's prose texts after the Nobel prize (1990)
- J. Pilling, Beckett before ‘Godot’: the formative years, 1929–1946 (1997)
- P. J. Murphy, Reconstructing Beckett: language for being in Samuel Beckett's fiction (1990)
- E. Brater, Beyond minimalism: Beckett's late style in the theater (1987)
- S. E. Gontarski, The intent of undoing in Samuel Beckett's dramatic texts (1985)
- Boston College, Massachusetts, John J. Burns Library
- Harvard U., Houghton L., corresp., literary MSS, and papers
- Indiana University, Bloomington, Lilly Library
- Institut des Mémoires de l'Édition Contemporaine, Paris
- Princeton University Library, New Jersey
- Syracuse University, New York
- TCD, ephemeral material
- U. Reading L., letters and literary MSS; further papers
- Washington University, St Louis, Missouri, letters, literary MSS and papers
- Harvard U., Houghton L., letters to Miss Willard
- TCD, letters to Bettina Jonic
- TCD, letters to Thomas MacGreevy
- TCD, corresp. with Alan Simpson relating to the Pike Theatre productions of his plays
- TCD, corresp. with Percy Arland Ussher
- TCD, letters to Herbert Martin Oliver White
- University of British Columbia, corresp. with Laure Riese
- P. Joyce, photograph, 1949, NPG
- photographs, 1950–1986, Hult. Arch.
- H. Hayden, pen-and-ink drawing, 1957 (Samuel Beckett), priv. coll.
- A. Arikha, brush and India ink on paper, 1967 (Samuel Beckett leaning), priv. coll.
- pen-and-ink drawing, 1967, priv. coll.
- portrait, 1969, priv. coll.
- brush and sumi ink drawing, 1970, Centre Pompidou, Paris
- etching, 1971, priv. coll.
- graphite drawing, 1971, NPG
- portrait, 1971, priv. coll.
- silverpoint drawing, 1971, priv. coll.
- silverpoint drawing, 1975, priv. coll.
- J. Brown, photograph, 1976, NPG
- graphite drawing, 1976, priv. coll.
- J. Baner, photograph, 1978, NPG
- L. le Brocquy, oils, 1979
- T. Philips, lithograph, 1984, priv. coll.
- T. Philips, lithograph, 1984, NPG
- B. O'Toole, pastel drawing, 1989, U. Reading L., department of archives and manuscripts
- L. le Brocquy, oils, 1992
- M. Abbott, pastel drawing, 2000, U. Reading L., department of archives and manuscripts
- S. O'Sullivan, charcoal drawing (Portrait of Samuel Beckett), priv. coll.