The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940 (Vol. 1)

Colm Tóibín writes:

In 1936 Beckett wrote from Hamburg to Mary Manning in further despair: ‘My next work shall be on rice paper wound about a spool, with a perforated line every six inches and on sale in Boots. The length of each chapter will be carefully calculated to suit with the average free motion. And with every copy a free sample of some laxative to promote sales. The Beckett Bowel Books, Jesus in farto.’ (He referred to his Proust book as ‘my Proust turd’.) His interest in the toilet might have been awakened by what he described to Arland Ussher early in 1936 as ‘a sebaceous cyst in my anus which happily a fart swept away before it became operable’. His problem in these years was very simple and not easy to solve: it was how to live, what to do, and who to be.

(LRB 6 August 2009)

In 1985 Beckett appointed Martha Dow Fehsenfeld editor of a projected collection of his correspondence, to be published after his death. Fehsenfeld and her assistant Lois More Overbeck have tracked down and transcribed more than 15,000 letters by Beckett, and this volume, the first of four, contains their selection of those they consider to have the most bearing on his work and thought. Tom Stoppard writes: ‘The prospect of reading Beckett’s letters quickens the blood like none other’s, and one must hope to stay alive until the fourth volume is safely delivered.’

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