Samuel Beckett-The reluctant prizeman
AT ABOUT 7 p.m. on October 23, a few hours after the announcement that the 1969 Nobel Prize for literature had been awarded to the Irish writer Samuel Barclay Beckett, the Irish Times received a call for help from the literary editor of a leading Norwegian paper. "Beckett," he said, "is in Tunisia. He cannot be contacted, and we have no-one here in Oslo who knows anything about him." To Beckett's friends in Dublin, there was something strangely appropriate, symbolic almost, in the fact that at the moment when newspaper men all overthe world were earnestly seeking him to make a story out of him, Beckett should have been on the edge of a desert, cut off, furthermore, by floods, virtually inaccessible.
At the same time they felt no surprise that few, if any, of the people in Oslo should have known anything about Beckett. The same holds true in London, in New York, and even in Dublin itself, since throughout his literary life, Beckett has steadfastly avoided all forms of publicity, giving no interviews, offering no statements about his work. As one American writer has ruefully put it, he is as difficult to meet as Godot himself. As late as 1956, four years after the premiere of Waiting for Godot, a leading French literary magazine could, with perfect justice and a nice sense of ambiguity, describe Beckett as" un inconnu celebre," while in 1969 the London Times in a leading article could still produce the inaccurate piece of literary gossip that Beckett had once acted as James Joyce's secretary. Godot is perhaps the most universally known play of the century.
It has been seen by at least five million people in thirty countries from Iceland to the Argentine, has been performed by actors ranging from Harlem negroes to Enniskillen schoolboys, and has been translated into over a score of languages including Finnish, Japanese andSerbo-Croat. But what of the author? Who is this Samuel Barclay Beckett? What is his background? Why is he called an Irish writer when he has spent most of his life in France and has written what many believe to be his most significant work in French? How comes it that an author dealing in dustbins and cripples, the High Priest of the sordid and the despairing should be given a prize" for the most important work," as the Nobel statutes say, " of an idealistic nature" ? There were questions enough in all conscience, when the award was announced, but more followed. Would Beckett accept the prize at all, it was asked; if so, would he go to Stockholm to receive it, and if not, why not? Beckett begets questions. As Vladimir, one of the two tramps in Wairing for Godot, complains to Estragon, his companion and friend, "Nothing is certain when you're around." Yet, since Beckett has been named as an Irish writer, if only to preserve our national reputation some answers must be attempted.It seems the most logical, the easiest and the safest to begin with a biographical study.
Even here, however, we run into difficulties and encounter that strange symbolism which we have already noticed. Samuel Barclay Beckett appears in the official records at the Customs House, Dublin, as Samuel Barely Beckett, and the month of his birth, like the name, is incorrect. In fact he was born in April, not May, on a Friday, Friday the 13, and Good Friday the 13 at that. There is happily The Beckett home in Foxrock Co. Dublin no question about the place, "Cooldrinagh," Foxrock, Co. Dublin, nor the parents, William Beckett, quantity surveyor, and his wife May (nee Rowe). Samuel was their second and last surviving child.
His early days were remarkably uneventful; though strictly brought up, " like a Quaker" as he once said, Beckett insists that his childhood was a happy time. "My father did not beat me," as he later told a soi-disant intellectual at a tedious party in London, "nor did my mother run away from home," so the cause of that preoccupation with hwnan distress which appears in all Beckett's later writing must be sought somewhere else. He admits apart from his First Communion that he never had any fundamental religious experience, and in this context the painter Bea Orpen, who remembers Sam at Sunday service, has a charming story to tell.Her family had the pew opposite the Becketts' and every week she noticed how Sam would scowl at her. It was only years later she discovered that there was nothing personal in this; Beckett's dissatisfaction was with the Cosmos in general, not with herself in particular.
Beckett's father is remembered as a jovial extrovert, a man prospering in his profession, fond of games, especially golf, but never sharing Sam's intellectual preoccupations.
The impression persists that Beckett pere was much more in sympathy with his .::lder son, Frank, who having studied Engineering at Trinity, in due course entered the family business. While there was no actual hostility between the father and the younger son, and while Beckett was devoted to Frank throughout the latter's life, Sam's closest ties seem to have been with his mother, a lady of great sensitivity and charm with the same aquiline cast of features as himself. As a family, the Becketts had no literary pretensions but were renowned as musicians and athletes, especially as swimmers and footballers. William was anxious that his sons should uphold this tradition, and would take the lads bathing and for long cycle rides in the Dublin mountains. As a result, Sam early acquired a physical toughness and a taste for open-air pastimes which was to stand him in good stead throughout his life.
His education was conventional enough, a kindergarten at Stillorgan run by two German ladies, a select Anglo- Irish prep school in the Leeson Street area conducted by a Frenchman, and then Portora Royal School, Enniskillen-an academy more noted for producing Generals and public servants than men of letters, though it numbered Oscar Wilde among its old boys and the actor Max Adrian was a contemporary of Sam's. At Portora, Sam seems to have fitted in without the slightest difficulty. In his first year he earned a place on the cricket team, then captained by his brother, and he later developed into a good all-rounder, a hard-hitting bat, a useful leg-break bowler and a fine fielder. Interestingly enough, he batted right-handed but bowled lefthanded. Beckett also distinguished himself in swimming, boxing,-he was the school medium heavy-weight champion,-and at Rugby, playing scrumhalf for the first XV in his last year. In the classroom he was outstanding, and was regarded as an independent, if not indeed a rebel in a class that contained half a dozen future Scholars of Trinity. In 1923, Beckett came up to the University on an Entrance Exhibition and entered the Honors School of Modern Languages, reading French andItalian. His Tutor was Dr. A. A. Luce, a leading authority on Bishop Berkeley and the philosophy of Descartes.
The Athlete at Trinity
In his first three years at Trinity, Beckett seems to have divided his time pretty evenly between study and sport. He passed the yearly exams with firstclass Honors, played cricket for the College first XI, golf for the second team, Rugby for the thirds, and was regarded as a doughty opponent at billiards and snooker. Surprisingly he contributed nothing at this time to either of the two undergraduate magazines, but he developed a strong taste for the cinema, where Buster Keaton was one of his favourites, and for the theatre, notably the Abbey, then in a golden period with Sarah Allgood, F. J. McCormick, and Barry Fitzgerald. Alan Simpson, who produced Godot at the Pike Theatre, believes that Beckett acquired his ideas about stage dialogue from listening to the Abbey actors, and it is a fact that to this day his lines seem to trip more easily off an Irish tongue. It is no accident, Simpson would argue, that Beckett's two greatest interpreters in English should both be Irishmen,-Pat McGee and Jackie MacGowran. In the summer term of his third year Beckett brought off a spectacular double; he was awarded his Pink for cricket and in the same month, as a result of an intensely competitive examination, he was elected to a Foundation Scholarship in Modern Languages.
Any assessment of Beckett which overlooks his skill in games and the pleasure which he finds in them, can only be a half-truth. Cricket was long to remain one of his great pleasures in life. Some time in the fifties, he was watching a Test Match at Lords when that other great enthusiast, Harold Hobson, asked him if he had been on the University side in the great days of Trinity cricket. "When I was there," Sam replied, "only fifteen people in the place knew how the game was played and it was therefore easier to get on to the team than to keep off it." Neveretheless the score book does not confirm this modest estimate of Beckett's abilities. There are no direct references to the game anywhere in his writings, but it provides him with one fascinating idea. As Bruce Arnold has pointed out, Molloy's operations with his six sucking stones are identical with those of an umpire transferring pennies from one pocket to the other as each ball of an over is bowled.
Another exploit of Beckett's at Trinity deserves to be remembered. In his last year he read a paper to the newly - formed Modern Languages Society on a group of writers called Les Convergistes who, he asserted, were revolutionising Parisian literary circles. He described their leader and gave samples of their work, extracts which could be savoured to the full only by someone with a strongly Rabelaisian sense of humour and a deep knowledge of argot. A friend of Beckett's, a member of the French department, produced more examples and the paper was gravely discussed. Les COllvergistes however have never been heard of since, inside Trinity or out. Here is the earliest recorded example of the Beckett anti-academic joke, a special form of irreverence which occurs again and again in his work; in Molloy, for instance, when the hero comes to an interesting piece of selfknowledge by counting the number of times per diem that he breaks wind, in Watt, where Beckett sets down every possible way in which one member of a Schools Committee might exchange glances with his four colleagues while interviewing a candidate, and possibly, in Godot, in Lucky's one great, tumultuous utterance.
Friendship with Joyce
In 1927, Beckett took his finals, getting a First, a Large Gold Medal and the Special Prize offered by the French Government. As a stopgap job he taught French at Campbell College, Belfast, for the next two terms and then, in the summer of 1928, left Dublin for Paris and a twoyear stint as lecteur d' Anglais, or English Assistant, at the Ecole Normale Superieure. His duties here were not very exacting, and Beckett soon became a regular member of the brilliant circle surrounding James Joyce, then engaged on Finnegan's Wake, parts of which he had been publishing from time to time under the title Work in Progress. A deep friendship sprang up between the two men, ending only with Joyce's death in 1940. It has been repeatedly asserted that Beckett was Joyce's secretary, but those best qualified to know are definite that he never handled Joyce's correspondence, as Paul Leon was to do in the thirties, never even wrote a letter for him. Like all those who came into regular contact with Joyce, however, Beckett soon found himself, as the family phrase had it, "doing little jobs for Jimmy," reading to him, or undertaking pieces of research for him in various libraries.
Joyce had a remarkable talent for delegating such commissions, and Mrs. Joyce used to say that if she died after James she would surely have to wait at the Heavenly Gates since the Recording Angel would inevitably be busy doing some little job for Jimmy. Years afterwards Beckett described to Joyce's biographer, Richard Ellman, how the two friends would sit for hours together" conducting a conversation made up of silences directed at each other." Every twenty minutes or so one of them would say something, sufficient to reveal that their minds were moving side by side in exactly the same direction. Beckett never forgot Joyce's birthday, marking it on one occasion with a gift of a walking-stick, on another with a specially composed acrostic. Joyce had the highest respect for Beckett's mental powers, but he also enjoyed his company as an escape from the somewhat overwhelming in. tellectual atmosphere in which at times he was engulfed. Ellman gives an account of one such occasion, the celebrated dejeuner d' Ulysse organised by Adrienne Monnier to celebrate the French translation of Ulysses. This formidable lady had assembled a brilliant collection of literary lions including Paul Valery, Jules Romains and Leon-Paul Fargue, and had transported them in a specially chartered bus to a village near Versailles, selected because its main restaurant was in a HotelLeopold.
Afteralengthy luncheon, and a series of speeches to which Joyce refused to contribute, the party started home, but, greatly to the annoyance of Mlle. 1'Yionnier and Mr. Valery, Beckett insisted on stopping the bus at every village while he and Jimmy nipped out for a quick one. Eventually, as Joyce reported in a letter the following day, "Beckett had to be ingloriously abandoned by the wagonette in one of those temporary palaces which-are inseparably associated with the memory of the Emperor Vespasian." A more serious complication in their friendship centred around Joyce's daughter, Lucia, who conceived a violent passion for Beckett which he did not reciprocate. He had taken her out once or twice to the theatre or to restaurants, but as soon as he sensed her feelings he made his own position quite clear to her. Her subsequent tragic history has been told in detail by Ellman, and for a long time Beckett used to reproach himself that he had been unable to return Lucia's love. In all probability it was her sufferings which first aroused in him that compassionate yet practical interest in mental illness and in asylums to be found in his first novel, Murphy.
Beginnings as a writer
If Beckett's two years at the Ecole Normale had their light-hearted moments, they were also to have momentous consequences, shadowing out the shape of things to come. Beckett had gone to Paris as a teacher, and there is no reason to believe that he had thought of himself as anything else, least of all as a writer. The contact with Joyce, however, and with the literary world had obviously opened up new directions, and it was immediately under the influence of Joyce that Beckett published his first important work, an essay brilliantly expounding and defending Joyce's method of writing in Work in Progress. Here Beckett lays bare the essential nature of Joyce's experiments. "His writing is not about something; it is that something itself. When the sense is asleep, the words go to sleep. When the sense is dancing, the words dance." This organic use of language where word and idea are inseparable, Beckett has called direct expression. He himself was to use it later in life in a different way for a different purpose but in that one sentence we can see the realisation which was to inspire those new forms of writing singled out by the Nobel prize jury forty years later. While in Paris Beckett also won his first literary prize, £10, offered by Nancy Cunard and the Irish Press for a poem about Time. The money was doubtless more badly needed and therefore more welcome at the time than the Nobel award will be now, for lecteurs were not well paid. Hard on the heels of this success, stemming directly from it, came Beckett's first piece of commissioned work, significantly a critical monograph on Proust. In this we find a sentence as vital and as pregnant as the recognition of direct expression. "In the life of the individual there is a zone of being, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being." This concept, with all its implications, is the basis on which Beckett's sensibility has developed, a sensibility which infuses all his writing imparting the compassion and the humanity that make of it in work of an idealistic nature."
\X'hen his contract expired in 1930, Beckett returned to Dublin and to a post as lecturer in French at T.C.D. The appointment was initially for three years and, on the face of it Beckett now seemed assured of a brilliant academic future. His lectures were exciting if exacting,-" I wish someone would explain his explanations" ran a Valentine message for him in T.G.D., but it is easy enough to sense that Beckett was liked and admired by his students. The monograph on Proust had been noted with approval by Rebecca West in the Daily Telegraph, albeit with a number of detective stories and she had described its author as a very clever young man indeed. Beckett had also written and played in a comic burlesque of Corneille, a piece called Le Kid which the Modern Languages Society had put on at the Peacock Theatre, and which had been judged by the Irish Times critic as a very satisfactory Jeu d' esprit. Then suddenly at the end of 1931 after only four terms Beckett resigned and hastened to the Continent, absent-mindedly taking with him, as A. J. Leventhal recalls, one of the col1ege master keys so that every lock in the place had to be changed. Years afterwards he explained his reasons for going,-he could no longer bear the absurdity of trying to teach to others that which he did not know himself,and the break with the academic life was to prove final.From now on Beckett resolved to support himself by his pen.
When he said good-bye to Trinity, he also and with equal finality said good-bye to Ireland.For the next six years he was to wander over Europe, turning up now in Frankfurt, now in London, now in Vienna, occasionally for brief spells in Dublin, and more frequently in Paris, where in 1937 he finally decided to make his home. The forces prompting him to leave Ireland were complex and perhaps not always clear to him. They had their roots in that flatness which descended on public and private life here after the ferments of the struggle for nationhood and the war of independence. "Ireland awake," says Michael MacLiammoir, "can be terrible, but Ireland asleep is terribly dull." Undoubtedly Beckett's imagination and his creative powers had been higWy stimulated by Joyce's work, and by the entire intellectual climate of Paris. Looking back on things, the wonder is that Beckett ever returned to Ireland at all, but his family ties were strong and he felt a deep sense of affection and gratitude towards Trinity. On the other hand, the general attitude here towards Joyce epitornised an outlook from which Beckett knew he must escape if he were to survive as a creative artist.
This instinct was fully vindicated in 1937 when Beckett gave evidence in a libel action against Oliver St. John Gogarty arising from a virulent piece of anti-Semitism in As I was was Strolling Down Sackville Street. Gogarty's counsel anxious to blacken Beckett in the eyes of the jury sub jected him to a merciless crossexamination, making great play of the facts that he was living in France, had written a book banned in Ireland, (A collection of short stories, called More Pricks than Kicks), and that he had expressed certain reservations about the Deity. "The bawd and blasphemer from Paris" was but one of the elegant phrases used but the jury refusing to be side tracked awarded considerable damages against Gogarty. Beckett returned to his flat in Montpamasse but had not been back very long when he was stabbed by a drunken tramp in the street, the knife narrowly missing his heart. When news of this reached Dublin, according to A. J. Leventhal, the Bailey Restaurant provided Gogarty and his friends with oysters to celebrate the event.
The attack on Beckett had one strange sequel, another of those slightly sinister symbolic occurrences.
The police insisted on a confrontation between Beckett and his assailant, now deeply penitent. The latter when he saw Beckett in the charge room, flung himself down at his victim's feet begging his forgiveness but when Beckett asked the man why he had stabbed him, all he could say was, " Je ne sais pas, Monsieur."
France at war-rather than Ireland at peace
At this point we must retrace our steps a little. In 1935 Beckett's father had died leaving him a legacy of £200 a year which, augmented by occasional articles and commissioned translations had been just enough for him to live on. Beckett spent most of his time in Paris but made a point of coming to Ir<dand for at least one month a year and this he would spend with his mother. His literary output had not \;)een large, for in the years following his resignation from Trinity he had brought out only three books, a novel Murphy, a collection of poems Echoes Bones and a collection of short stories More Kicks than Pricks. His talents had been clearly recognised by judges as astute as Herbert Read, Richard Aldington and Joyce himself, but Beckett had yet to achieve his true stature, to establish himself as a major creative artist. Outside a small circle he was virtually unknown; with the war, however, he was to find what he had to do and the way in which he had to do it.
This was not immediately apparent. In September 1939 Beckett was back here on his annual visit spending a month with his mother in Greystones. When war was declared he immediately hurried back to Paris, remarking that he preferred France at war to Ireland at peace, but he took no active part in affairs until the Germans occupied Paris in April, 1940. Then the war suddenly Became something personal and with meaning. Like Joyce, Beckett had many Jewish friends and he was incensed by the constant humiliations and maltreatments to which they were subjected. He was enraged too at the repeated shootings by the Germans of innocent people taken as hostages. Here was a situation in which, as he said ruefully some years later, he couldn't stand with his arms folded. Anger led to action and towards the end of 1940 he joined an underground network with agents dotted all over France sending in weekly reports of every German troop movement. This information was channelled to Beckett in all sorts of ways, scribbled on bus tickets, cigarette tickets, anything, and his job was to edit it, collate it, and then type as much as possible onto two sheets of paper, to be microfilmed and smuggled out of Paris for eventual transmission to London. Beckett declines to take this work very seriously. "Boy Scout stuff" he calls it but on August 15, 1942 the entire group was betrayed by one of its members. Of the original eighty agents only sixteen or seventeen escaped arrest, torture, and the concentration camps, but these included Sam who had been warned of the danger in sufficient time to hurry away with his wife Suzanne, quitting his flat barely thirty minutes before the Gestapo arrived for them. For the next three months they were, in Sam's phrase" on the trot," as they made their way through enemyoccupied France, liable at any moment to discovery or betrayal, to arrest or summary execution. In January 1943, they crossed into Vichy France, and made for Roussillon, a village in the mountains behind Avignon. Here they remained in semi-hiding until the final German collapse.
During the day Beckett worked as a peasant to get food for himself and Suzanne, and during the evenings he wrote Watt, a strange fantastic novel set in the country round Foxrock and Carrickmines, for this, as he later explained, helped to keep his mind off the war and the occupation. As soon as he could move freely, Beckett hurried home to Dublin and to his mother, but in a few weeks he was in France again working as storekeeper and interpreter at the Irish Red Cross hospital at St. La near Dieppe. By the end of the year he had moved back to his old flat in Montparnasse and here in conditions of almost monastic seclusion, he began to write, this time in French and in a form totally different from anything he had attempted before. Inside four years, during which he worked almost without a break, he had completed the work on which his reputation largely rests today,-a trilogy of novels, Molloy,
Malone Meurt, and L' bmommable. and the play En Attendant Godot. There could be no question now but that he had found himself; heretofore his life was to be in his writing, but the writing had become a struggle every bit as arduous, as seemingly hopeless at times as his fight for physical survival during the war. Furthermore it is a struggle which is by no means over yet as every year Beckett's books get shorter and shorter.
What of Beckett the individual? There can be no danger of failing to recognise him in the street, this lithe yet craggy man with the head of a Maths or Physics professor set on the legs and torso of a quarter mile runner. More than most, Beckett is a closeknit person, all of a piece. He believes that physical movement conveys at least as much as words-witness the detailed directions for Winnie's hands in Happy Days-and this is certainly true of himself. With a new acquaintance he is taut, wary, like an animal almost, but presently he relaxes, a process visible in the angle of his head, and the way he holds his arms. The voice likewise changes from a dry donnish tone, sometimes described as a rasp, to the warm reassuring accents of the Dublin professional man with a Trinity background. If Beckett is upset or embarrassed it is equally apparent; the great head droops forward, the hands, if he is seated, begin to rub between his knees, and then, to quote one close friend, " Sam becomes very mulish."
But such occasions are rare. Once the initial reserve has evaporated, Beckett reveals a genius for companionship, a remarkable ability to make those around him feel the better for his presence. A colleague who had workedwithhimunderdifficult surroundings at St. Lo put it this way. "Sam, is the sort of person you could wander off with for a country walk and watch rats swimming in the river, and you'd both feel you'd had a useful afternoon." The word " both" is important for Beckett always imparts this sense of something shared, of someone coming along with you. The same friend goes on to describe him at a tea-party in Dublin talking to some students, "giving them everything he could, all they wanted; with it, with them although there was a whole generation between them."
This gift springs from an instinctive recognition of what the other person needs, and a remarkable generosity in providing it. In this context, Brendan
Behan, whom Beckett liked and admired, had a characteristic story. Once, in Paris, Behan found himself under lock and key through some temporary financial embarrassment. Beckett hearing of it sought him out and then, in Brendan's words, "He paid them what I owed them, and he took me away, and he gave me 10,000 francs and a double brandy and a lectUre on the evils of drinking." A nicer sense of priorities it would be hard to imagine. Friendly, modest, generous, compassionate, these are the words which people who know Beckett and who have worked with him use again and again. The actress Madeleine Renaud describes him as one of those exceptional men for whom love and lucidity are on the same level. Jerome Lindon, his French publisher, has said that he never thought he would meet a man at once so real, so truly great, and so good.
Beckett dresses informally but tidily; there is nothing of the layabout or the bohemian about him. His workroom, predictably, is an orderly, slightly austere place, very much a man's room. He has always lived very simply, and those who know him accept without question Lindon's statement that the £30,000 prize money is of little interest to Sam. Almost certainly it will be given away, but it is highly unlikely that the world or even the recipients themselves, will know much about this. When Beckett donated a year's American royalties on Krapps Last Tape to the Trinity Library extension fund, he did not feel it necessary to advise the organising committee.
As well as his Paris flat, an unassuming apartment, Beckett has a country cottage about seventy miles from the capital to which he retires when he wants to write. He bought it with some of the early profits from Godot and has found great pleasure making a garden there and growing trees. He is a pianist of more than average ability and is deeply interested in modern painting having written on Jack B. Yeats, Bram Van Der Velde, Tal Cote and in the late thirties he wrote the catalogue for the Picasso exhibition in London and Paris organised by Peggy Guggenheim. Beckett still likes a game of billiards or a round of golf, and a few days before the Nobel Prize had been awarded he was enjoying a little quiet swimming in Tunisia.
Throughout his life Beckett has refused to align himself with any political party or to identify himself with any conscious literary movement, though he is ready to join in collective action when he approves of its object. Thus, as far back as 1937 he associated himself with a group of British writcrs in their support of the Spanish Republican government in their OPPOSItion to the Fascist insurrection of General Franco. More recently he was one of the British writers who have forbidden the sale or performance of their work in segregated South Africa, and he has played an active part in the campaign for literary freedom in England being one of the trustees of the defence fund organised by John Calder following the legal battles over Last Exit to Brooklyn. When O'Casey withdrew his work from the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1962, Beckett followed suit, and banned professional presentations of his plays here for nearly two years.
Embarrasment over prize
His reserve, or rather his natural shyness is innocent of all kinds of affectation. He genuinely finds it difficult to meet strangers, he hates having his photograph taken and he is repelled by the false camaraderie and hollow goodwill of press receptions public relations campaigns and the rest. Yeats has recorded that on his way to Stockholm in 1923 he was shown a crowd of people at a railway station, who, he was told, had come simply to gaze on the winner of a Nobel prize. Beckett would find this literally unsupportable. Yet to have refused the prize altogether, as Pasternak and Sartre refused it, would have amounted to a public gesture which Beckett had no desire to make. Besides, he thinks of himscif as an Irishman, and it is from this, perhaps, that he may take a little very modest pleasure in his nomination.
Of Madame Beckett very little is known except that she is French, her Christian name is Suzanne, she is small and dark-haired, Beckett first met her in the thirties, and that after the war she acted as his agent hawking the trilogy and Godot from publisher to publisher, from management to management because Sam was too shy to do this himself.
Alfred Nobel-similarities with Beckett
With a certain amount of surprise one realises that Alfred Nobel who set up the prizes seventy odd years ago, would have found himself much in harmony with Beckett. His own life has some of those symbolic paradoxes which surround Beckett. He made his millions by inventing means of destruction, dynamite, and cordite, and then left his fortune to scientists, writers, and politicians to encourage them in making the world a better place. Science he regarded as one form of health, literature as another and he passionately desired the better state of all mankind. Like Beckett he was an exile, spending most of his time outside Sweden,-a European tramp as he once described himself. Like Beckett he wrote prose and poctry in a language which was not his mother tongue and like Beckett he could see simultaneously the desperation and the pity inherent in the human condition. Asked by his brother for an autobiographical Sketch, he described himself" as that halfbeing Alfred Nobel, whom a philanthropic physician should have strangled at birth as he came howling into the world." The ironic adjective, the very rhythm of the sentence are pure Beckett. Nobel, too, hated publicity, refused to be photographed; and would fully understand Sam's reluctance to subject himself to public scrutiny.
Beckett, in the words of the Nobel citation is honoured" for his writing which-in new forms for the novel and drama-in the destitution of
modern man acquires its elevation." Behind these rather obscure words lurks the last and greatest Beckett paradox; Beckett's work, for all its savagery and sordidness, for all its preoccupation with human distress, is an art of goodwill, what one critic has called an art of love. A few years ago a young teen-ager talking about Beckett's work to Jack MacGowran summed up his ever-increasing popularity when she said, "The more I read Sam Beckett and feel his compassion for the human condition, the more I realise that the magnitude of my own youthful and harrowing problems need no longer be a tortured secret but can really be understood and shared and my existence made much more tolerable." "She spoke," adds MacGowran, "for countless hundreds." This is true, and one feels that the lonely" half-man" Alfred Nobel would have wanted no more worthy a prize-winner.
A Mediocre Festival
IN THEORY each of the twelve Dublin Theatre Festivals should have its own individual character; it should be possible to talk about it as one talks about vintage years for wine, but in fact this is not so. In retrospect one can remember isolated events but it gets increasingly difficult to fix an exact date to them. When did the Theatre Nationala Populaire play here? \'<'hat year was it we had both Kafka and Keene? When did we last have a consciously religious drama? Even with the programme in front of us the feel of anyone Festival eludes us, yet" The Festival" has become an integral part of Dublin life. Every October people ask each other" what did you see in the Festival? " in much the same way I as they enquire a few months later "how did you get over Christmas? " If we are looking for a distinctive flavour then, for 1969 we are unlikely to find it, and if we are hoping for individual highlights, there seem precious few of them either. In what terms then shall we report?
First it may be well to establish a frame of reference and try to decide what we want the Festival to be and what purpose it can serve. Over the years there have been three main concepts; in the beginning it was a kind of theatrical binge when, as Brendan Smith remarked fourteen years ago, we put on things we normally couldn't afford. Then it was organised as a sort of shop window for Irish writers, actors and directors, a display of our talents which we hoped might encourage foreign customers to buy for presentation elsewhere in London, or New York, or on the Continent. Later still-and this idea is still evolving the Festival was recognised as a kind of rallying point for everyone interested in the Theatre, be they practitioners, critics, or just the plain paying public. To pacify the accountants the Festival has always been alleged to be a powerful tourist attraction.
The economics of a festival
Brute economics have forced most of us to admit that as Mr. Noel Coward puts it, the party's over now. While they were at the Olympia Messrs. Illsley and McCabe demonstrated to their cost that International Theatre on our Door-Step was simply not feasible because the number of potential patrons in Dublin was not sufficient to support lavish star-studded productions ultimately destined for the West End. Since their time overheads, wages and, above all, transport costs have soared so that unless we are prepared to subsidise the Festival heavily either through rates or through some form of national taxation or by paying much more for our seats, there can be no question of anything in the manner of Edinburgh.The same financial considerations have militated, though in a slightly different way, against the shop-window concept. If we are hoping to sell for export, the goods must be properly presented and we have been able to find neither the space in Dublin for adequate rehearsals nor the money to pay actors and directors during the six weeks or so which are an essential minimum if the production is not to appear tatty. Admittedly several Festival presentations have gone on to become international successes-The Importance of Being Oscar and Stephen D to mention two-but this idea of Dublin as an annex to the West End has never really justified itself except to those who have benefited directly financially, and they, after all, are not the paying patrons. Over the last two or three years however the idea of the Festival as a concentration point has been developing and it is here, rather than in any external considerations, that the Festival seems likely to find a valid justification.
The views of visiting theatre critics certainly support this idea. Discussing this year's Festival with NUSIGHT, Wolfe Kaufman, Eric Shorter, and B. A. Young all made the point that they do not go to any festival, least of all to Dublin, to see work which they know is destined to finish up in London anyway, Kaufman, indeed, going so far as to state specifically that this was why he hadn't been to Edinburgh for the last five years. Likewise they were all agreed that they did not come here year after year in the hope of seeing technically brilliant performances; if that was what they were looking for they could have stayed in London. For them the lure of Dublin is twofold, firstly they feel that there is always the chance of some moment of distinctive theatrical excitement and over the years they have not been disappointed; secondly there is the cumulative effect of two weeks' uninterrupted, undiluted theatre-going. Here we come to the essence of a festival devoted solely to plays, be it the Universities' festival or the regional or national finals of the All Ireland Amateur Drama Association. Going to plays night after night is a different experience from savouring each in isolation.
A whole climate builds up ; the world of the Theatre becomes a part of everyday life and people are talking plays as readily and unaffectedly as they talk about the weather, the racing, or the price of stout. Also, as one fairly regular theatre-goer put it recently, " If you're out at the Theatre every night for a week you become very jealous of your time, more critical, more aware." In other words, the quality of the audience improves, and this surprisingly quickly improves the quality of what that audience is offered, not only for the fortnight of festival, but for the rest of the year. Another mysterious thing about this concentrated fortnight is that it actually attracts into the thaetres people who would otherwise never go there. This, in the most literal sense, makes the Theatre more popular, more democratic, so that when the Government proposes a subsidy, this relates to something of which more and more citizens have had direct first-hand experience and which, therefore, they are more prepared to support.
This year's firsts
Turning from the general to the particular, tradition requires that the critic should attempt some kind of class-list and at the outset it must be confessed that there are no obvious un-arguable Firsts. Nearest perhaps comes the MacLiammoir-Edwards evening at the Gate. In King Herod Explains Edwards gives us a rich draught of authentic Theatre, involving each of us in his argument, securing the complete suspension of disbelief. He makes his audience work, and if at the end the reward falls below the effort, the blame for this must rest with the author. Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien is a fine persuader, but as yet he is not an experienced playwright.The other item at the Gate, MacLiammoir's The Liar, is that comparative rarity nowadays, a completely pleasant piece, and it is a joy to hear verse in the Theatre properly spoken and properly used. High commendation, too, must go to Maurice Good's John Synge Comes Next because, like Edwards, he lifts us out of our everyday existence, convincing us that we are actually seeing and listening to Synge himself. Here the dramatic illusion clarifies reality and intensifies it, the hall-mark of the authentic theatrical experience. For simple pleasure the American Arts Theatre's The Immortal Husband ranks high as does Maurice Gavan Duffy's Afr. Handel's Visit to Dublin impressively staged in St. Patrick's Cathedral. Purists may object that this was neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring, not" professional" Theatre nor" professional " Music.
Be that as it may, this was a highly civilised way to spend an evening and the entertainment served to heighten our awareness of at least its immediate surroundings. It is a good thing to see St. Patrick's becoming one of the recognised places for Festival presentations; perhaps in the future something a little weightier may be attempted, a Morality say, or perhaps Dorothy L. Sayers's The Zeal of Thy House. Good marks go likewise to Patrick Gilligan's The Crying Room at the Eblana, a fine if all too brief example of a play with its roots deep in contemporary Dublin and with something pertinent to say. The Lantern maintained its tradition of intelligent, unusual plays and if Miss a by Michael McDonnell did not succeed completely, it was all the same, a worthwhile example of experimental Theatre. One also remembers, if mainly for their panache, the three unassuming but agreeable Chekhov plays staged by the 66 Theatre Company in Dun Laoghaire. Here a predominantly local audience showed itself interested and appreciative, a most heartening proof that if good sensible plays are presented the Theatre will not be empty.
If only for its last act Eugene McCabe's Swift at the Abbey must be awarded a Second. One cannot help remarking, however, that the author could profitably turn again for his material to present-day Ireland. His play Breakdown presented five or six years ago at the Gate and showing the current morality or lack of it among successful tycoons not fifty miles from the General Post Office is surely the kind of work our living Theatre should produce. Vincent Dowling's production of Juno and the Paycock at the Abbey has several good things about it, but it fails to come off completely. He brings out one essential truth about the play, that it is not a collection of individual roles but a study in relationships, and, with Angela Newman, he has evolved a new and unquestionably