Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

by Isaac Cronin


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Intensely private, possibly saintly, but perhaps misanthropic, Samuel Beckett was the most legendary and enigmatic of writers. Anthony Cronin's biography is a revelation of this mythical figure as fully human and fallible, while confirming his enormous stature both as a man and a writer. Cronin explores how the sporty schoolboy of solid Protestant bourgeois stock became a prizewinning student at Trinity, flirted with scholarship, and, in Paris, found himself at the center of its literary avant-garde as an intimate friend of James Joyce. But he was a young man who struggled with complexities in his own nature as well as with problems of literary expression. In the small provincial city of Kassel, Germany, the cosmopolitan Beckett experienced a faltering entanglement with his cousin—one of the first in a series of problematic encounters with women. The war years, which he spent as a member of the Resistance and a refugee in the South of France, brought Beckett the self-probings and discoveries that led to the great works. Then, with his sudden and astonishing fame, the balloons of myth began to inflate and a stereotype was born—frozen in exile and enigma, solemnity and sanctity. Anthony Cronin bursts these balloons to see more clearly what lies behind. Without moralizing or psychologizing, without pretensions or piety, he uncovers the real Beckett, the way the life was lived, the way the art was made.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780306808982
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 04/01/1999
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 672
Product dimensions: 6.02(w) x 9.14(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Anthony Cronin is a poet, novelist, broadcaster, editor, and author of No Laughing Matter, a celebrated biography of Flann O'Brien. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Read an Excerpt

Samuel Beckett

The Last Modernist
By Anthony Cronin

Da Capo Press

Copyright © 1999 Anthony Cronin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0306808986

Chapter One

Biographies often begin with a date of birth, the date on which the subject's experiences can be said to begin. In the case of Samuel Beckett there are two difficulties about adopting this simple procedure. One is his claim to have been born on Good Friday, 13 April 1906. The other is his repeated insistence that he had memories of life in his mother's womb.

The idea that he had been born on Good Friday, the day of the Saviour's crucifixion, pleased him, more especially since Good Friday happened in 1906 to have been Friday the thirteenth. What better birth-date could there be for someone so conscious of the suffering which underlies human existence; and conscious also that misfortune, in comic or tragic guise, awaited every venture and departure? In a late work, Company, which is highly autobiographical, the coincidence of his birth-date with the day of the Saviour's death is emphasized. 'You were born on an Easter Friday after long labour...' And: 'You first saw the light and cried at the close of the day when in darkness Christ at the ninth hour cried and died.' Not only was Beckett pleased with the Christ connection involved in having been born on a Good Friday, but he was never averse to introducing analogies and comparisons between Christ's life-story and those of his degraded characters.

It is a little unfortunate therefore that his birth certificate shows him to have been born on the 13 May 1906, which was a Sunday. The birth was not registered until a month later, on 13 June. Since it was Irish custom to allow a clear four weeks to elapse between birth and registration, this fact would if anything tend to confirm the May rather than the April birth-date, but of course there is always the possibility of error -- even an error of immediate recollection on his father's part, or a slip of the tongue or the pen, neither of which was rare where registration was concerned. Since Beckett was on the whole truthful about such matters and on at least one occasion claimed to have the authority of his mother for the Good Friday birth-date, the balance of probability is in its favour, but it is a pity nevertheless that there should be any doubt about it.

The other difficulty about beginning on Friday the thirteenth is Beckett's claim to have had memories which preceded this date. He told more than one person that he had such memories; and in an interview given when he was sixty-four he said, 'Even before the foetus can draw breath it is in a state of barrenness and of pain. I have a clear memory of my own foetal existence. It was an existence where no voice, no possible movement could free me from the agony and darkness I was subjected to.'

On an earlier occasion he had told Peggy Guggenheim that he had, in her words, 'retained a terrible memory of life in his mother's womb. He was constantly suffering from this and had awful crises, when he felt he was suffocating.' And with his close friend Geoffrey Thompson, a psychiatrist who tried to help him with subsequent difficulties, he also discussed his pre-natal memories and the feelings of entrapment and suffocation they brought with them.

But not only did he have these generalized memories; he had, he said, a particular memory of being at the dinner table in his mother's womb shortly before birth. There were guests present and the conversation was, perhaps needless to say, of the utmost banality.

In any case Samuel Beckett, son of William -- known as Bill in family circles, but generally to friends and associates as Willie -- and his wife Maria -- known as May -- was born at nightfall, in the family home at Foxrock, a prosperous suburb on the outskirts of Dublin. At the time of his birth Bill and May Beckett had been married almost five years. A first child, Frank, had been born within eleven months of their marriage; the second, Samuel, was not conceived for three more years.

The place of May's accouchement was the bedroom in which the conception had most likely taken place, a big room with a bow window facing the Dublin mountains. It was a difficult labour, the pains lasting all day; and as soon as it began in the morning Bill absented himself, going for a tramp in the mountains with a packet of sandwiches and a flask of whiskey. He returned to find his wife still in labour, and being, like most fathers of the time, neither welcome nor anxious to hear or see anything of the delivery, he took himself off to the garage, where he sat in darkness in the driver's seat of his high De Dion Bouton until a maid came to tell him it was all over and that his wife had been happily delivered of a son. In later life Beckett was fond of the verse in the Book of Job, verse 3, chapter 3, 'Let the day perish in which I was born and the night in which it was said, there is a man child conceived.' Mr Tyler in the radio play All That Fall apologizes for cursing, in the presence of a lady, God and man and 'the wet Saturday afternoon' of his conception, while Neary, in the novel Murphy, curses first the day he was born, 'and then, in a bold flashback, the night he was conceived'.

Whereas Bill and May's first son, Frank, had been healthy and placid, Samuel was a sickly, thin baby who cried constantly.

The Becketts were prosperous people and the house in which the birth took place reflected that prosperity, as did its situation in Foxrock, then a very exclusive suburb of Dublin. Willie Beckett's father, also William, was a building contractor and what nowadays would be called a speculator who had acquired both money and house property in Dublin on a considerable scale. Among the contracts awarded to his firm were those for the new National Library and National Museum, flanking the Royal Dublin Society's headquarters in Leinster House in Kildare Street, which subsequently became the home of the Dail or Irish parliament. These had been begun in 1885 and finished in 1891. There was fierce competition for the contract and some of William Beckett's enemies were pleased when it was established that the Mountcharles sandstone employed had been wrongly used: face-bedded instead of end-bedded, so that it began to crumble almost immediately, though this was never clearly established as the builder's mistake and may well have been the architect's.

The Becketts vaguely supposed themselves to be descended from Huguenot refugees who had come to Ireland from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, fleeing their homeland to escape persecution as Protestants and settling in a country where persecution of Catholics was just about to begin on a systematic scale. The Huguenots had supplied Ireland with much of its industrial and business energy, bringing with them a knowledge of the linen and poplin trades as well as of banking; and they fitted in easily enough in a country which was in process of transition after the Williamite Wars a place where much was in the melting-pot and most business activity represented a new departure. Within a generation or two the Huguenots generally were as happy to forget their French origins as many other members of the land-owning and business classes were to forget their English; and by the early twentieth century no trace or definite knowledge of a former French connection remained. Samuel Beckett's adoption of France as his homeland would have nothing to do with the French origins of his family: and in fact there is doubt that the Becketts really were Huguenots. The name does not occur in early listings of Huguenot refugees and is not commonly regarded by historians of the Huguenot influx as a likely Huguenot one. The suggestion has therefore also been made that the Irish Becketts were of Norman origin, and those who like aristocratic lineages for their heroes have even claimed that Samuel Beckett's family were descended from the family of Thomas a Becket, the turbulent priest who was Henry II's Archbishop of Canterbury. What makes the Huguenot connection the more likely is that originally the Becketts were silk- and poplin-weavers, a form of manufacture in which Huguenots certainly engaged, and in fact William Beckett senior's father, Samuel's great-grandfather, James Beckett, had been in the silk-weaving business. By the time his son entered the building trade, Irish silk-weaving, which had once been important, was dying out.

In 1869 William the builder had married Fannie or Frances Crothers -- Crowther in one family record, but certainly Crothers -- daughter of a Dublin merchant, Thomas Crothers, who was also of course a Protestant. A talented and sensitive woman, perhaps more talented and sensitive than William Beckett had bargained for, to some extent she broke the mould of philistine business success and introduced other elements into the make-up of the Becketts. She was an accomplished musician, who played the harmonium and composed settings for poems which she thought sufficiently solemn and religious-sounding, such as Tennyson's 'Crossing the Bar'. In later life she took to the drink and Dublin gossip was pleased to report on her eccentricities, including the fact that she would lock herself in her room, presumably with supplies of alcohol, for days on end. What in the course of time her grandson, Samuel, would remember best about her was the parrot who always perched on her shoulder and flew into a jealous rage when anyone kissed her.

Fannie and William Beckett had four sons, of whom one, Howard went into the family contracting business, J. and W. Beckett of South King Street; and two, Gerald and James, studied medicine and became doctors. A daughter, also Frances, but known because the boys called her that as Cissie, would have a somewhat less orthodox career, as a painter, member of Dublin's bohemia and wife to an unsuccessful Jewish art dealer. The fourth son, in fact the eldest and christened William after his father, was destined to be the father of Samuel Beckett.

William senior and Frances lived in a house called Earlsfield which was Number 7 Prince William Terrace in the fashionable district of Ballsbridge, and it was there that William junior was born in July 1871. He grew into a burly, athletic youth of a not very studious disposition and left school early to become apprenticed to a member of the trade or profession of quantity surveying. Quantity surveyors were employed to estimate the amount of material likely to be used in any particular building contract, and had begun to appear in the early nineteenth century, when they were known as 'measurers'. Originally anybody could set up who had the right connections and thought he could get the work, but by the late nineteenth century entry was being increasingly if loosely regulated by-an apprenticeship and examination system. Willie Beckett was apprenticed to the firm of J. and E. Pannister where he served the requisite five years, after which a partnership was purchased for him in a firm which had offices in Clare Street, near the back gate of Trinity College.

Besides the fact that estimating could prove a lucrative extension of the activities of an already well-established building concern, William Beckett senior, like many successful business people at the time, was anxious that his eldest son should become a member of one or other of the professions. This was a tendency everywhere, but it was especially the case in snobbish Dublin, which was keenly conscious of social gradations. Since William junior showed no interest in a prolonged period of academic study, quantity surveying was a good halfway house. His success, it was felt, would be almost automatically ensured by his connection with the firm of T. and W. Beckett, while at the same time it would be a step up in the world, since quantity surveying took rank as a profession, not a trade. The line between it, civil engineering and architecture was still rather blurred. Quantity surveyors were free to describe themselves as one or the other and frequently did.

Willie Beckett may not have been academically minded, but neither was he a dullard. He had a good, shrewd business brain and he was soon a success in his profession. He was also a socially minded, good-natured, seemingly uncomplicated young man, fond of masculine pursuits, including the game of rugby and the drinking and horse-play that went with it. All the Becketts were athletic and interested in athletics and Willie's brother Jim, one of the two who became doctors, was a famous swimmer and a member of the Irish international swimming team about which later verses would be written:

Dockrell, Taggart, Beckett, where Now are the men I worshipped there?

In manner Willie Beckett was an extrovert, who appeared glad to see people and was prepared to make the best of them. He was, like his brothers, naturally athletic and besides being a rugby player he was a golfer, a tennis player, a great walker and a year-round swimmer. In the course of time he became a member of several men's clubs, including the exclusive Kildare Street. Until he was over thirty he lived at Earlsfield, a mansion substantial enough to house a British embassy in later years, an active young man already inclining to stoutness. It was an uncomplicated life: the office or the building site during the day, nights at the club with a game of billiards after dinner, summer evenings on the golf course and in the club-house bar. But to go with all this masculine activity and joviality there was church-going with his parents at weekends before Sunday dinner at Earlsfield, often followed by a tramp through the Dublin mountains.

Then he fell in love; and unfortunately with a Catholic -- the seventeen-year-old daughter of William Martin Murphy, the most successful Catholic businessman in Dublin, owner of newspapers, the tramway company and much else, whom he had met at the Fitzwilliam Lawn Tennis Club, one of the few places where Catholics and Protestants could meet socially. There was talk of marriage and both sides were appalled, the Catholic Murphys even more than the Protestant Becketts. The girl was forbidden to see any more of him and was forced to make a solemn renunciation at her mother's death-bed, the death itself occurring at just the right moment to induce a sense of guilt and transgression. Then, apparently almost before she had time to breathe, let alone weep, she was married off to a distinguished Dublin surgeon, Sir Arthur Chance, a widower with children who happened to be a knight as well as a Catholic and was not only much older than her, but considerably older than Bill Beckett as well: in short, a good match.

Shortly afterwards Willie went down with pneumonia. He appears to have been out of sorts for some time after being parted from his love, with ailments difficult to diagnose and probably evidence of a shock to the psyche greater than was to be expected from his extrovert demeanour; in fact, a breakdown. But the pneumonia was an indisputable reality and he wound up in the Adelaide Hospital, where he was nursed by a tall, thin-faced, serious girl called Maria, or May, Roe, who was exactly the same age as himself.

The Roes had been in Ireland since 1641, before the Cromwellian invasion, and had once been considerable land-owners in County Tipperary, with villages named after them, such as Roesborough and Roe's -- now corrupted to Rose -- Green. The Tipperary Roes had a reputation for wildness which sometimes overlapped with one for oddity but by the early nineteenth century a branch of the family was centered in Leixlip, a small town or village not far from Dublin in County Kildare, and was producing principally clergymen. In the mid-part of the century May's father, Samuel Robinson Roe, son of a clergyman also called Samuel, had possessed a property near Mountmellick in Queen's County, now County Laois. He was also, however, a miller and grain merchant and in 1864 had moved to another property, Cooldrinagh in Leixlip, and another mill in nearby Celbridge. Besides owning the mill he still had land with tenants on it and had therefore not forfeited his right to be called a gentleman; but when he died he left his family in seriously reduced circumstances. Whatever sort of gentleman he may have been, Samuel Robinson Roe was certainly not much of a businessman. He was, as people benevolently say in Ireland, fond of a drop, which means that he was a heavy drinker and he died relatively young. Whatever his failings, however, the religious atmosphere in his household was strong, and was not lessened by his marriage to Anne or Nanny Belas, for the Belases, who were solicitors in Andrew Street in Dublin, were very evangelical. In the days of his prosperity Samuel Roe had rather fancied himself as a speculator and financier. discounting bills and buying up mortgages, but when the mill, which failed to thrive, ate up his capital, including his land, his resourcefulness appears to have been exhausted at the same time. The strong will and character that May Roe exhibited throughout her life seems to have come from her mother, a neat little woman of high -- or should one say low? -- evangelical principle, which she passed on to her daughter.

The Roes had a number of children; and when Samuel Robinson Roe died his daughter May was only fifteen. Since they had not been well provided for, it was desirable that she should find an occupation and eventually she had, to use a phrase of the day, 'gone nursing'. The burden on relatives of a large family had to be alleviated in any way possible. What made nursing an acceptable option was the advent in Ireland in the late 1880s of the 'lady probationer', the daughter of gentlefolk who entered a hospital for training as a nurse. After this it became quite a fashion for such young ladies to do so. The Adelaide Nursing School was especially popular among Protestants with some social pretensions, but it was also a good place as far as actual training for the profession was concerned, the Adelaide having been among the first hospitals in these islands to institute any sort of training system at all, in 1858, when a colleague of Florence Nightingale's set it up. The financial rewards of nursing were not very great, varying between 12 [pounds sterling] and 30 [pounds sterling] a year when the training period was over, but a nurse might be expected to have good marital opportunities, especially if she had the right social background herself. Samuel Robinson Roe's relatives may well have considered nursing to be as good an option as any other. Whether May had any real vocation for it is a different question. There was not much in her subsequent attitudes which suggested a natural nurse, though she was efficient enough at binding up her children's smaller physical wounds.

While it was not a matter of remark that a young man of Willie Beckett's age and type should still be a bachelor at thirty, a girl of that age who was still unmarried was regarded as in danger of being left on the shelf. When she met Willie, or, as she shortly began to call him Bill, Beckett, May was doubtless under some pressure, whether great or small, overt or otherwise, to find a husband. Bill for his part was on the rebound. He had suffered a severe emotional reverse; and, besides he too would have had urged upon him the necessity of 'settling down'. No doubt all this contributed to whatever process of falling in love or falling for each other there was; but on the surface at least they were a somewhat ill-matched pair. Bill was a comfortable fellow, pleasure loving and emotionally undeveloped; she was moody, questioning and exacting. She was also witty, even sarcastic, and she had a vivacious side, being subject to states of comparative elation as well as depression; so he may have seen her as high-spirited as well as serious.

She had been educated at the Moravian Mission School, Gracehill, outside Ballymena, County Antrim, which does not mean that either the Roes or the Belases were necessarily of the Moravian persuasion. Gracehill had been the first boarding school for girls in Ireland. The Moravians were known as good, thorough-going educators. Low Church Protestantism -- which virtually all Irish Protestantism was -- would have little difficulty with their non-doctrinal approach. And in any case their doctrines, such as they are, conform to the mayor Protestant confessions. At school she had frequently been in trouble for indiscretions and breaches of discipline, the sort of high spirits that verge on hysteria; and there had been a threat of expulsion for talking to a boy over the rear wall, an episode to which as a married woman she made occasional reference and of which she seemed rather proud. Probably the extreme high sprits which she occasionally displayed were evidence of a tendency to mood-swings, what a later age would call manic-depressive tendencies, before calling them bi-polar personality traits, but of course that would not have been evident then.

Whatever the degree of attraction between them, the courtship was swift and conclusive. Bill Beckett and May Roe were married according to the rites of the Church of Ireland on 31 August 1901.

Bill's degree of prosperity as a young man of thirty is indicated by the fact that he immediately set about building a substantial new home in the most fashionable suburb of Dublin. Obviously he was good at his job, but he also had family connections; and in truth it was not easy for a Protestant with a good start to fail in business or the professions at the time.

At the turn of the century the grip of the Protestant element on business and professional activity in Dublin was still very strong, though for a long while now they had been conscious of a challenge from upwardly mobile Catholics. This supremacy was largely maintained through the Freemasons and other mutual aid societies. An approach from one mason to another was a recognized way of landing a contract or getting a job or even a bank loan and it was utilized to the full. The Catholics too had their mutual aid societies, such as the Knights of Columbanus, but the masons, with headquarters in a splendid building in Molesworth Street, not far from Bill Beckett's office, still reigned supreme. Both Bill Beckett and his father were masons; and Bill made use of his membership of the order to an extent which his old master Pannister considered to be scandalous, refusing to speak to him because of it.

Like the aristocracy, the Protestant business community of the towns and cities looked down on Catholics as, in general, rather feckless, lazy and dishonest. A sort of right to ownership and control of business as a prerogative of greater thrift and industry, never mind the favour of Providence, was widely assumed. Except perhaps perforce as employers, and to some extent as manufacturers or shopkeepers, they took care to have very little contact with Catholics; and the aim of many Protestant business people as employers was as far as possible to recruit their clerical staff and work force from among their co-religionists. There were then many thousands of lower-middle-class Protestants from among whom to recruit and even a relatively smaller number of working class, of which number John Casey, or Sean O'Casey, was one. Socially too they kept their distance as far as possible. It was a boast among the denizens of Foxrock, the suburb in which the newly married couple were about to live, that one could pass one's day without speaking to any Catholic other than the railway company's employees. As Vivian Mercier has put it:

The males and some of the females of the typical Protestant family took the train every weekday to office, school or university in Dublin. In all these places they were likely to be associating almost exclusively with fellow Protestants. The females who stayed at home spent their leisure time with other Protestant ladies, though their maids and gardeners were usually Catholic. If one preferred to think of oneself as English there was really no reason not to.

But to call this class Anglo-Irish and to lump it in with the Protestant land-owning aristocracy -- the class to which Yeats affected to belong and to which J. M. Synge and Lady Gregory actually did -- is to create considerable confusions. Of course, the two sometimes overlapped: Bernard Shaw's father was, rather in the pattern of Samuel Roe, an unsuccessful Dublin corn merchant who had a bit of land with tenants on it -- as John Butler Yeats, a member of the Protestant professional middle class, also had -- and therefore had pretensions to gentility. But in general the line between people in trade and those deriving their income from land or a profession was very clearly drawn, as it was at that time in other countries; and though Willie Beckett's professional or quasi-professional qualification and May's descent from land-owners freed them from the opprobrium attached to being in trade, it was the business class to which the Becketts really belonged. Anglo-Irish is a misnomer also because in fact the Protestant Dublin middle classes probably looked to England less often and with less social anxieties than did their landed co-religionists. They did not, for the most part, send their offspring to English schools or take their daughters to London for the season, still less disport themselves at Cowes or Ascot. They did not take it for granted that their cadets would obtain commissions in the British army. Though their loyalty to the Crown and the Union Jack was automatic and unquestioning, their sources of income had not been threatened by the sort of legislation which had brutally loosened the aristocracy's grip on the land -- and therefore on Ireland itself -- since the 1880s and so their interest in British politics was less fevered and personal. They were content to vote Unionist and hope for the best.

The other ways in which they differed were the ways in which a bourgeoisie differs from an aristocracy everywhere, but with some exacerbations which were peculiar to the Irish situation. Even among aristocracies, the Anglo-Irish was notoriously improvident and devil-may-care in its outlook. Its tradition of rakehelly violence, celebrated in the novels of Charles Lever and Samuel Lover -- just as its improvidence is bemoaned in those of Maria Edgeworth -- went back to the seventeenth century; and though tamed somewhat by Victorianism, was still being celebrated by W. B. Yeats in the 1930s. Whatever the past history of the Roes, it was far from the outlook of the Becketts and their kind; and far too from the outlook of their offspring, Samuel Beckett, either as a man or as a writer.

As befitted a bourgeoisie the outlook of the Protestant middle class was far more scrupulous, honest and industrious, less eccentric and also less centred on the Vice Regal Court in Dublin Castle with its multifarious snobberies and its petty pretensions. The middle class was snobbish enough, the principal internal manifestation of its attitude being the line drawn between professional people and those in trade, one of the reasons why Bill Beckett called himself a civil engineer in Foxrock when he went to live there. But it was more in touch with reality.

And there was another reason why the term Anglo-Irish for members of the Protestant middle class is misleading. By comparison with Anglicanism the Church of Ireland was a Low Church and had been since Cromwell. But the incumbents of city parishes were expected to be even lower in their practices and their disdain for ritual than their country colleagues and were more jealously examined for traces of Romanism in their ritual or dogma. O'Casey has brilliantly described the violence and obloquy that was visited on the incumbent of an East Wall parish who was adjudged too Anglican in his practices. For the middle class the Bible was the supreme guide and test of religious belief; and in many middle-class homes it was the only reading matter encouraged.

Bill and May Beckett's first home was a substantial late Georgian, rented house in Pembroke Road, fairly near Earlsfield. Three years later they moved to Foxrock, which for most members of the Protestant Dublin middle class represented the pinnacle of social and commercial success. Where he built, inland towards the mountains, new houses were appearing, but nearer the Stillorgan road the merchant princes of Dublin had earlier bought some of the substantial mansions to be found there, each behind its demesne wall with a stretch of driveway croquet lawns and frequently tennis-courts, some of them houses of considerable architectural distinction. As Foxrock spread west towards the mountains it retained its exclusive character, the new houses being sizeable and standing in fairly extensive grounds. At a slightly later period, when suburbia was growing fast, the great Dublin comedian Jimmy O'Dea would describe the more central districts of Rathmines and Rathgar as a purgatory for souls awaiting the heaven of Foxrock'.

The house, which was proudly featured in a supplement to the Irish Builder on its completion in 1903, is sizeable but commonplace, with elements of the mock Tudor in its mullioned windows and projecting gables. When it was sold again in the 1970s, its mock Tudor elements were made a virtue: 'This is a charming Tudor style family residence well set back from the road at the corner of Kerrymount Avenue and standing amid totally secluded mature gardens laid out in lawns, tennis court and croquet lawn.' After pointing to the 'extremely high standard of finish' and the 'spacious proportions' of the main rooms, the advertisement concluded: 'Churches and schools are conveniently situated and there are excellent shops situated in Foxrock Village which is five minutes' walk from the property. 'Cooldrinagh' is approached by a sweeping gravelled driveway.'

Except that the implied length of the driveway is something of an exaggeration, it is true enough; and of course Foxrock with its little railway station was even more of a village when Samuel Beckett was born. Inside, the house gave an impression of bourgeois solidity and comfort, with mahogany panelling in the hallway and on the staircase, heavy mahogany furniture and thick velvet curtains. It was a time when most people in most social classes preferred evidences of expense, durability and workmanship to aesthetic considerations -- or rather, they equated these things with the beautiful: and the Becketts were no exception. Except for the master bedroom with its big bow window on the first floor the house was rather dark. There were two other bedrooms on that first floor and two more rooms on the top or attic which could be used as servants' or children's bedrooms or playrooms. Downstairs were a drawing room and a dining room. Like the bedrooms, these had bell pulls to which, supposedly at least, a servant would respond. Outside the grounds were, as the advertisement said, spacious enough to accommodate a tennis-court and a croquet lawn, as well as a vegetable garden, flower beds and wilderness areas with larch and pine trees. Besides all these there were outhouses, including a hen-house, a garage and a stable in which, later on, May would keep a donkey. There was also a little wooden summer-house or gazebo with stained-glass windows which is described in the story Company.

The house was called Cooldrinagh after the house which the Roes had owned in Leixlip. Some commentators have identified it with the description of Mr Knott's house in the novel Watt; and certainly it resembles it in its general situation; but Mr Knott's house is much larger, and its American bar, oratory and dairy are taken from the biggest house in the locality, in fact the original 'big house' which was there before Foxrock became a suburb, the neo-Gothic Glencairn -- home, when Samuel Beckett was growing up, to the exotic American, the Boss Croker. Cooldrinagh is, however, the model for Moran's house in Molloy, even to the lemon verbena to whose scent he refers, a flower which, by the time Sam was a toddler, already grew in profusion round the hall door, giving forth 'a fragrance in which the least of his childish joys and sorrows were and would for ever be embalmed'.


Excerpted from Samuel Beckett by Anthony Cronin Copyright © 1999 by Anthony Cronin. Excerpted by permission.
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