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No. 89 Samuel Beckett Walks Into A Bar

Beckett’s relationship with his mother (as with his Mother Country) was close and combative. She was a formidable woman, and however far he traveled, he never escaped her.

--Margaret Drabble, The Maternal Embrace: Samuel Beckett and His Mother May



On November 5, 2014, I arrived in Paris for a week. It was cold and pouring rain. Perfect bookshop weather. I dropped off my bags in my Airbnb and headed out the door to Shakespeare and Company. I got there at about 4:00 pm. On the door was a sign that said, “Tonight. 7:00 pm editor Dan Gunn talks about The Letters of Samuel Beckett: 1957 - 1965.”

That’s a pretty good start to my time in Paris.


My students from a distant Beckett class will remember my fascination with Beckett’s mother. Though theirs was a painful bond, his mother May was the muse for Beckett’s complex and riveting females characters. Their relationship so stressed him, he would break out in boils. I asked Gunn if Beckett talks about his mother in this volume of letters. The answer was no.


Yesterday on LitHub, poet Paul Auster published an essay recounting the time he talked to Samuel Beckett in a bar. Beckett’s deep insecurities were present as well as probably his very best line. Beckett also reveals a small detail about his writing process of Mercier and Camier in translating the book from French to English.


Here is a section describing how the character of Helen mends the two protagonists' day:


The day came at last when lo the town again, first the outskirts, then the centre. They had lost the notion of time, but all pointed to the Lord’s Day, or day of rest, the streets, the sounds, the passers-by. Night was falling. They prowled about the centre, at a loss where to go. Finally, at the suggestion of Mercier, whose turn it must have been to lead, they went to Helen’s. She was in bed, a trifle unwell, but rose none the less and let them in, not without having first cried, from behind the door, Who goes there? They told her all the latest, their hopes both shattered and forlorn. They described how they had been chased by the bull. She left the room and came back with the umbrella. Camier manipulated it at length. But it’s in perfect trim, he said, quite perfect. I mended it, said Helen. Perhaps even if possible more perfect than before, said Camier. If possible perhaps, said Helen.


You can read the Auster essay here: Paul Auster on the Time he Met Samuel Beckett

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