BECKETT, Samuel (1906-1989)
Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 48 Paultons Square, Chelsea, London, SW3 5DT, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Literature, Theatre and Film
SAMUEL BECKETT 1906-1989 Dramatist and Author lived here in 1934
Plaque to Patrick Blackett also at this address
Samuel Beckett is one of the major literary figures of the 20th century. While in London in the 1930s he published his first full-length work and started to develop the distinctive minimalist style which would characterise his most famous play, Waiting for Godot (1956).
DUBLIN TO LONDON VIA PARIS
Samuel Barclay Beckett was born on 13 April 1906 in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock. After studying European literature at Trinity College, Dublin, he travelled to Paris, where he met his countryman James Joyce. Inspired by Joyce’s commitment to writing, the young Beckett fell under his influence – one he later sought to escape. ‘I vow I will get over J. J. ere I die. Yessir’, he wrote in 1931.
On returning to Dublin in 1930, he lectured in French for four terms at Trinity College before travelling to London in 1932 to seek literary work. On that occasion, however, his applications produced nothing but ‘glib Cockney regrets’.
PUBS, GALLERIES AND PSYCHOANALYSIS
When Beckett next came to London it was to undergo psychoanalysis with Wilfred Rupert Bion at the Tavistock Clinic in Bloomsbury. Beckett was in turmoil following the death of his father in June 1933 and had a long list of ailments, some psychosomatic, including boils, pelvic pains, tachycardia, panic attacks and insomnia.
From January to July 1934 he travelled to the clinic from 48 Paultons Square in Chelsea, part of a Grade II listed terrace. The lodgings were found for him by his friend Tom McGreevy, who lived nearby in Cheyne Walk Gardens. The two men used to drink in the Six Bells (now part of the Henry J Bean chain) and the World’s End (now a restaurant), and would visit London’s art galleries together on the days when admission was free.
While he was living at Paultons Square Beckett’s first full-length work, More Pricks than Kicks, was published on 24 May 1934 by Chatto and Windus (or ‘Shatupon and Windup’ as Beckett referred to them). He also wrote most of his first novel, Murphy, in which the protagonist dies in London having found contentment there. Beckett considered this book to be the foundation for his subsequent works.
Beckett’s life was often poverty-stricken and turbulent – he was lucky, for instance, to survive being stabbed by a pimp in a Paris bar in 1938. He settled in France in the late 1930s and thereafter wrote mostly in French as an aid to sparse, disciplined composition.
His worldwide reputation was secured with Waiting For Godot (1956) – a play in which, to quote its best-known line, ‘Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes’, and which practically defined the Theatre of the Absurd. His later plays include Endgame (1958), the partly autobiographical Krapp’s Last Tape (1959) and Happy Days (1961), while the prose works Molloy (1955), Malone Dies (1956) and The Unnamable (1958) are often cited among his best works. He died in Paris on 22 December 1989.