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200 × 130 mm
208 pages
34 illustrations
13 Jan 2010
Critical Lives

Samuel Beckett Andrew Gibson

The life of Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) has been the subject of exhaustive scholarship, yet by contrast Beckett himself was a spare, minimalist writer who deeply distrusted the techniques of biography. In this new, concise, critical account of Beckett’s life and work, Andrew Gibson seeks to remain faithful to the writer’s artistic aims, staying close to Beckett’s style of thought and work in his analysis of this supremely modern figure.

Beckett’s Rockaby ends with a resounding ‘fuck life’: Samuel Beckett takes as its touchstone the formidable Beckettian drive to give up on the world. Gibson locates the logic of Beckett’s drive through an analysis of his responses to modern history, showing how Beckett came to have an unusually profound feeling for the Zeitgeist, and a power of conveying it unrivalled by any other contemporary artist. This book tracks Beckett’s painful progress through the historical situations that defined his experience: Ireland after independence, Paris and the École Normale Supérieure in the late twenties, London in the thirties, Nazi Germany, Vichy France, the early years of the Fourth Republic, the Cold War and the triumph of Capital in the 1980s. It also analyses the (often muted and oblique) traces of and responses to these situations in a range of Beckett’s works.

As Gibson cogently argues, Beckett was devastated by modern history without being finally completely overpowered by it. He shows that Beckett espoused an extreme version of the Romantic doctrine that art is a criticism of historical forms of life, but also that Beckett’s version is wryly ironical and perverse, for it stubbornly refuses to assume that life can ever say its final word.

'[the book] undoubtedly sheds light on the historical circumstances that informed [Beckett’s] texts, and there are many interesting details that allow us to see his literary achievement more clearly.’ – TLS

'Drawing on Beckett’s major works, his letters, and theoretical notebooks, as well as on recent research in Beckett studies, Gibson’s critical life of Samuel Beckett is a pleasure to read, providing an instructive and original insight into Beckett’s life and work in relation to the events by which they are framed.’ – Modern Language Review

'This new biography . . . considers the writer’s work in relation to the historical circumstances of his life and provides an original insight into one of Ireland’s greatest writers.’ – Irish Post

'In his recent short biography of the writer, Samuel Beckett, Andrew Gibson makes the essential attempt to restore to the dramatist and his characters the difficult and thankless nobility of the compassionate view . . . An excellent and necessary volume.’ – George Hunka, Artistic Director, theatre minima, New York

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Andrew Gibson is Professor of Modern Literature and Theory at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is coeditor of Reaktion’s London from Punk to Blair and the author of Joyces Revenge: History, Politics and Aesthetics in Ulysses’ and James Joyce, the latter also published by Reaktion.