A Reluctant Subject: Portraits of Samuel Beckett
In contrast to the minimalism of his plays, Beckett himself led a rich life. An Irishman in Paris, he met James Joyce in the nineteen-twenties, and the author took Beckett under his wing as a research assistant for a book that eventually became “Finnegans Wake.” Among the most famous chapters in Beckett’s colorful biography are his near-fatal stabbing by a notorious Parisian pimp and his time in the French Resistance. Fleeing the Gestapo, he and his lifelong partner, Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil, spent several weeks travelling on foot at night and sleeping during the day, an experience that may have served, at least in part, as the inspiration for “Godot.”
Beckett was so intensely private that when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1969, Déchevaux-Dumesnil called it “a catastrophe.” The critic Brooks Atkinson, reviewing “Godot” in the Times, in 1956, called the play “a mystery wrapped in an enigma,” and the same could be said of Beckett. For photographers, this made him an especially appealing subject.
Steve Schapiro shadowed Beckett during the production of the playwright’s movie “Film,” in 1964. Shapiro told me, “Beckett seemed introspective and engrossed in his own world. Most of the time, I doubted that he was even aware I was there, and I am sure cared less. For me, this was ideal …. As introverted and taciturn as he was reputed to be, he was thoroughly engaged in the art of filmmaking. Nothing escaped his eye. He was attentive to every small detail, examined each prop, sometimes even with a magnifying glass. He studied everything. The parrot in the cage and the dog and cat in the basket delighted him. He spent many hours observing their movements.”
Jane Bown’s photograph of Beckett emerging from the shadow of a theatre door was taken under slightly more duress. She had been sent by The Observer to photograph Beckett while he directed Billy Whitelaw in “Happy Days,” at The Royal Court, in 1976. Beckett had agreed to a photo, but as Bown waited in the theatre a stagehand slipped her a note saying that Beckett had changed his mind, and that the portrait was off. Bown’s “blood was up,” so when Beckett left she slipped around to the back door, camera in hand. She promised him that it would only take three frames. He allowed her five.
Dmitri Kasterine’s contemplative portrait of Beckett was taken in London, in 1965, at a rehearsal for “Beginning To End,” a BBC Television production that Beckett wrote for the actor Jack MacGowran. “Beckett observed acutely,” Kasterine told me, “never taking his eyes off the actors or director, but saying very little. I gave no directions while taking the picture. When they broke for lunch, we went to a local pub where Beckett drank Guinness and played bar billiards—he beat everyone.” (via http://www.newyorker.com)
“AN ENTIRELY NEW THEATRICAL LANGUAGE”: FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH OF BECKETT’S WAITING FOR GODOT
BECKETT, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove, (1954). Octavo, original debossed black cloth, original dust jacket. $4800.
First edition in English, translated by Beckett from the original French, in scarce dust jacket.
“One of the most influential plays of the post-war period” and a central document of the Absurdist school, Waiting for Godot earned Beckett worldwide acclaim (Drabble, 1038). “Beckett’s work invented an entirely new theatrical language, palpable and comprehensible images of the absurd, and unforgettable metaphors of the human condition” (Hollier, 1010). En attendant Godot was written in 1946 but not published until the 1952 Paris first edition. “The date of its first [Paris] performance—Jan. 3, 1953—would be pricked out in gold in the annals of the stage…There is something of everyone in this play, and something of everywhere, too. That is why what it has to offer is a landmark in life” (New York Times). Issued simultaneously by Grove Press in both hard cover binding with dust jacket and in paper wrappers; this first American edition is the first in English, preceding the London edition by two years. Mahaffey, 217. Lake, 132-133. (via http://www.baumanrarebooks.com)
Waiting for Godot (tragicomedy in 2 acts by Samuel Beckett)
Act I: http://samuel-beckett.net/Waiting_for_Godot_Part1.html