Traditions and Trends
Edited By Elke D'hoker and Stephanie Eggermont
Early Readings, Early Writings: Samuel Beckett’s Student Library and His First Short Stories
Samuel Beckett is a versatile figure. For the average reader, he is the playwright who wrote Waiting for Godot. For English literature students, his work additionally consists of innovative narrative fiction in the form of novels and short prose. Researchers analyse his activity as a poet, art critic, essayist and (self-)translator. A small segment of the literary audience is interested in Samuel Beckett the student and university lecturer at Trinity College Dublin. This remote – yet all the more fascinating – period in Beckett’s life was formative, offering clues about the origin of his later ideas and techniques.
This essay will discuss a selection of Beckett’s short stories alongside a contextual interpretation of his readings during his period at the university. The literary corpus read by Beckett before obtaining his MA at Trinity will be placed alongside his earliest works of short fiction (spanning the years 1929 to 1932): ‘Assumption’, ‘Sedendo et Quiescendo’, ‘Walking Out’, ‘The Smeraldina’s Billet Doux’ and ‘Text’. These narrative experiments are a long way from his later masterpieces. Nevertheless, what connects them is an idiosyncratic view on complexity that Beckett developed from his readings. Teaching his seminar on French literature at Trinity, Beckett indirectly formulated a programme centred on the idea of complexity which would also apply to his own compositions.
In order to discuss Beckett’s first narrative efforts based on what he was reading at the time, several important archival resources will be used. These include the reading lists in...
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