15 June 2020

Deirdre Bair: Samuel Beckett: A Biography (1978)

Deirdre Bair's PhD was on Beckett, so she obviously knows her subject, this was the first biography on the writer and he wasn't opposed to its publication, and this is certainly a thorough work on the man's life and his work. It's excellent in many ways, but although I reviewed Anthony Cronin's work earlier neither of the books are up to the standard of James Knowlson's biography, which I've yet to read.

Unfortunately this book is spoiled by errors, and not just a few but many. OK, Bair didn't know that Beckett was beaten several times by Alfred Le Peton at Earlsfort House School. But sometimes she says weird things: for instance, Montpellier had a population of a little under 100,000 in the fifties, and yet she calls it a 'romote village'. I ask myself what her understanding of the French language and culture was (she died this April), because many of the things she writes border on the willfully sloppy, with accents either non-existent or all over the place: how about the truly bizarre 'Il nous ailes en culer a la gloire'?; there are two references to a certain '[Jean] Genêt'; she confuses 'mec' with 'mac' and says it mean pimp; she manages the cedilla in 'Academie Française', but not the acute on the 'e'; Jean-Pierre Jouve is just 'Jouve, Pierre' in the index, etc, etc. Occasionally dramatic or odd adjectives are used: Beckett doesn't just fall into a mechanic's pit but 'drop[s] six terrifying feet' (my emphasis), and why are the women knocking on the elderly and married Beckett's door in Germany called 'nubile'?

I'll read the Knowlson in due course.

My Samuel Beckett posts:
Anthony Cronin: Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist
Samuel Beckett: En Attendant Godot | Waiting for Godot
Francisco Pérez Navarro: Galería de moribundos
Deirdre Bair: Samuel Beckett: A Biography
Samuel Beckett, 14e arrondissement

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