21 October 2020

Samuel Beckett: Footfalls (1976); repr. with Preface by S. E. Gontarski, 2009)

Footfalls is a short play centring on May, a woman in her forties almost constantly pacing up and down, and her elderly bedridden mother in darkness in the background. The first part (called the 'dying mother scene' by Beckett) is a conversation between the two; the second is the mother's voice saying that (the obviously seriously disturbed) May has not been out since she was a young girl; in the third section May speaks of herself in the third person and introduces the subject of a Mrs Winter and her daughter Amy (which of course is an anagram of May).

James Knowlson, in his Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, says that Footfalls 'grew out of Beckett's long-standing interest in abnormal psychology', and that May's pacing is an 'externalisation of inner anguish': Beckett had visited a psychiatric hospital in Beckenham in 1937, and two years before writing the play the daughter of a friend had told him of making similar pacing movements. But as Knowlson also says, there is more to this work than can be reduced to autobiographical instances, which of course holds for all of his works.

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