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‘A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials’

Bacon, Beckett and Spurious Freemasonry in Early Twentieth-Century Ireland


Lynn Brunet

The artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and the writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) both convey in their work a sense of foreboding and confinement in bleak, ritualistic spaces. This book identifies many similarities between the spaces and activities they evoke and the initiatory practices of fraternal orders and secret societies that were an integral part of the social landscape of the Ireland experienced by both men during childhood.
Many of these Irish societies modelled their ritual structures and symbolism on the Masonic Order. Freemasons use the term ‘spurious Freemasonry’ to designate those rituals not sanctioned by the Grand Lodge. The Masonic author Albert Mackey argues that the spurious forms were those derived from the various cult practices of the classical world and describes these initiatory practices as ‘a course of severe and arduous trials’. This reading of Bacon’s and Beckett’s work draws on theories of trauma to suggest that there may be a disturbing link between Bacon’s stark imagery, Beckett’s obscure performances and the unofficial use of Masonic rites.


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Notes 153


Notes Introduction 1 Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, first published 1981; London, New York: Continuum, 2002, p. 40. 2 T. Desmond Williams, ed., Secret Societies in Ireland, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1973, pp. ix, 6. 3 Williams, Secret Societies in Ireland, p. 37. 4 This reply is frequently noted in discussions of Bacon’s work. See, for example, Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon, ed. Rudy Chiappini, exhibition catalogue, Lugano: Electa 1993, p. 22. 5 See James Knowlson, ‘Beckett, Samuel Barclay (1906–1989)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 720, for a sum- mary of these various critics’ responses. Samuel Beckett, Murphy, first published 1938; New York: Grove Press, 1970, p. 4. 6 The exact date of Samuel Beckett’s birth was disputed. Beckett claimed to have been born on Good Friday, 13 April 2006, which differs from the date on his birth certificate. Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist, New York: Da Capo Press, 1997, p. 1. See Chapter Five for a discussion of the Masonic significance of the concept of a birth on Good Friday. 7 Francis Bacon was born on 28 October 1909. He claimed to have had vivid memo- ries of the Irish Civil War experienced while living in Kildare. Hugh M. Davies, Francis Bacon: The Early and Middle Years, 1928–1958, New York, London: Garland Publishing, 1978, pp. 1, 5. 8 Michael Peppiatt states that Bacon despised religious beliefs. Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson,...

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