Samuel Beckett’s unpublished writing

Richard L. Admussen

One unexpected benefit of a nearly completed analysis of Samuel Beckett’s manuscripts has been the discovery of a number of unpublished and generally unknown texts. Although these items vary widely in length and richness, certain manuscripts, particularly early expository writings and more recent abandoned theatre, offer insights into Beckett’s published works and, as such, deserve to be brought to the attention of interested scholars.

A tentative effort to list unpublished works appeared in Federman’s and Fletcher’s Samuel Beckett: his works and his critics (Berkeley, U of California P, 1970. 107-9.) Of the thirteen items noted, three have since been published, all in 1970: Premier amour (Federman and Fletcher 614), Mercier et Camier (Federman and Fletcher 615) and Chacun son dépeupleur (Federman and Fletcher 618) under the title of Le dépeupleur. In addition, the sonnet beginning ‘At last I find in my confusèd soul . . .’ (Federman and Fletcher 608) was not unpublished, having already appeared in slightly variant form in Transition magazine (March 1932) as part of the text of the short story Sedendo et quiescendo, itself excerpted from the unpublished Dream of fair to middling women. It has been dropped from the following list, as has the manuscript listed as Les bosquets de Bondy (Federman and Fletcher 613) which is actually an early draft of Mercier et Camier with a variant title. The eight remaining items are relisted below, generally in greater detail.

The only other serious description of unpublished work is included in James Knowlson’s Samuel Beckett: an exhibition (London, Turret Books, 1971. 116-18.) Five items are noted, one of which (374) after careful scrutiny, has been identified as a very early version of Cascando and is therefore not included below. [This manuscript has also now been published separately in French, entitled Esquisse radiophonique, in Minuit 5 (1973. 31-5). An English translation by Beckett, entitled Sketch for radio play has been printed in the magazine Stereo headphones, 7 (Spring 1976. 3-7.) The English text will also be reprinted in Ends and odds, (London, Faber and Faber, predicted for April 1977). This ‘proto-Cascando’ is studied in Clas Zilliacus, Beckett and broadcasting (Âbo, Âbo Akademi, 1976. 119-22. J.K.)]

One problem often encountered in dealing with unpublished material has been that of drawing the line between texts which are truly abandoned and those which can be recognized as early variant versions of works which ultimately find their way into print. This latter is, by the way, the case of a series of manuscripts (MS 1227/7/16, items 4-7) listed as ‘Unpublished and abandoned works’ in the collection at the University of Reading Library. Though the structure, dialogue, names of the characters, and in one case even the title, differ markedly from published works, these drafts, nevertheless, represent embryonic versions of known plays and have not been included here.

Finally, it must be noted that although the rewards of research on this material are considerable, they will not come easily. Samuel Beckett can write a neat and clear hand, as he does when correcting galley proofs, but pages such as these, intended for no eyes but his own, written hastily in ink often on cheap, soft paper, filled with additions, deletions and doodles, yellowed with the passage of time, are all but undecipherable in many cases and will reveal their contents only to those with keen eyes and great patience.

1928. Research essay on the ‘Unanimistes’

Paper submitted at Trinity College, Dublin. In English. See Federman and Fletcher 607. No copy located.

ca. 1930. Paper on Jean du Chas

Typescript, 5 pages. Infrequent revision. 33 x 21 cm.

Curious account in French of an imaginary poet and the movement supposedly founded by him, ‘Le Concentrisme.’ Preceded by a letter describing how his papers came to light. This is the item referred to by Bruce Arnold in his article on Beckett in The Dubliner, 3 (Summer 1964. 14), which he says was presented to the Dublin Modern Language Society in the late twenties. Listed incorrectly in Federman and Fletcher (606) under the title ‘Le Convergisme,’ then as ‘probably lost,’ this paper has now been presented on permanent loan to the University of Reading Library.

1930-2. Translation of Rimbaud’s Le bateau ivre

Typescript, 2 pages, slightly damaged by fire and water. 33 x 20 cm.

Commissioned by This quarter magazine but never published. Listed as ‘probably lost’ in Federman and Fletcher (610), this fine translation has recently been presented on permanent loan to the University of Reading Library. [It has now been published by Whiteknights Press at the University of Reading in a limited edition of 300 copies, of which 100 are signed by Samuel Beckett, with an introduction and notes by J. Knowlson and F. W. Leakey. J.K.]

1931, Le Kid, play

Parody of Corneille’s Le Cid, written in French in collaboration with Georges Pelorson and performed in February 1931 with Beckett in the role of Don Diègue. See Federman and Fletcher (609). No copy located.

After 1931. Notes on Samuel Johnson

Three notebooks containing material pertaining to Johnson’s relations with Mrs Thrale. Mentioned by Ruby Cohn in Back to Beckett (Princeton, Princeton UP, 1973. 123.) In private hands.

After 1931. Human wishes, play

Typescript, 10 pages.

First scene of a play intended to comprise four acts but never completed. Based on the Johnson/Thrale affair. See Ruby Cohn, op. cit., p.124. In private hands.

ca. 1932. Dream of fair to middling women, novel

Typescript, 214 pages. Infrequent to moderate revision. The first of the three chapters is incomplete; the third chapter has a variant ending appended. 27 x 21.7 cm.

Beckett’s first novel, tracing the amorous adventures of the hero, Belacqua, across the capitals of Europe. Passages from this manuscript were excerpted in literary reviews; events and characters reappear in later works, particularly More pricks than kicks (1934). Earlier autograph version not located. The original typescript is located in the Dartmouth College Library and the University of Reading Library has both a photocopy and a transcript.

ca. 1934-5. Echo’s bones, short story

Typescript, 28 pages. Infrequent revision. 25.3 x 20.3 cm. Late version of story in which Belacqua, the hero of Dream . . ., now deceased, continues his adventures. Closely related to the abandoned novel, to More pricks than kicks, and to The unnamable. A rather late draft. Dartmouth College Library.

ca. 1935-6. ‘Censorship in the Saorstat,’ critical article

Typescript, 7 pages. Infrequent revision. 25.3 x 20.3 cm.

Amusing satirical attack on censorship laws in the Irish Free State including those prohibiting material encouraging contraception. References to Ulysses. Evidently submitted for publication and returned. Dartmouth College Library.

ca. 1938-9 or 1942. ‘Les deux besoins,’ critical article

Typescript, 3 pages. Two insertions. 26.7 x 20.8 cm.

Final version of an important article on the nature of art and its function. See Federman and Fletcher (612). Both dates of publication have been suggested ay Beckett at various times. Dartmouth College Library.

1947. Éleuthéria, play

a) Manuscript, 144 pages, contained in two notebooks. Infrequent to extensive revision, doodles, staging diagrams. 22 x 17 cm.

b) Typescript, 133 pages. Very infrequent revision. 27 x 21 cm.

Beckett’s first complete play, in French, which has remained unpublished at his request. The lengthy, three-act drama for 17 characters is set in Paris, and concerns the hero Victor Krap’s search for freedom. Photocopies of this play seem to abound. The original autograph notebooks are at the University of Texas Library (Austin), the typescript at Dartmouth College Library.

1951-2. Abandoned story

Manuscript, 42 pages, in a notebook containing the original version of Textes pour rien. Insertions and deletions, doodles. 22 x 17 cm.

Unidentified prose work in French beginning ‘Au bout de ces années pérdues . . .’ Extremely difficult to decipher. Noted by Federman and Fletcher (617). The University of Texas Library (Austin).

1952. Abandoned story

Manuscript, 17 pages, in a notebook containing early versions of Fin de partie.

Unidentified prose work in French beginning ‘Ici personne ne vient jamais. On venait autrefois peut-être.’ Offered for sale at auction by Sotheby’s in July 1973. Not available for consultation.

1952. Abandoned story

Manuscript, 7 pages, contained in notebook described above.

Unidentified prose work which Beckett explains at the end ‘ultimately is of how I killed my mother, I suppose for having brought me into the world.’ Closer examination of this and the preceding item may prove them to be drafts of works later published. Not available for consultation, as above.

1953-4. Abandoned scene of Fin de partie

Manuscript, 4 pages, in a working notebook containing numerous fragments. Moderate revision, many doodles. 21.8 x 17 cm.

Brief passage in French in which X (later to became Hamm) converses with the factotum F (Clov) who is dressed as his aged mother. X requests a kiss; F refuses, giving by way of explanation a preference for X’s ‘petite soeur Tata.’ The conversation then moves to mutton (F: ‘J’aurais plutôt manqué ma prière que mon gigot’), then—to F’s decreasing skill at playing the role of mother. John and Beryl Fletcher’s critical edition of Fin de partie (London, Methuen, 1970) sets the actual writing of the play at December 1955. This passage dates from two full years before that date, and implies a much lengthier gestation period for the play. Trinity College Library, Dublin. [Part of the abandoned scene of Fin de partie described above also appears in a modified form towards the end of a longer typescript in the University of Reading Library, dated recently by Beckett as ‘Avant Fin de partie.’ This appears to bean important early draft of a substantial section of dialogue between X and F. Typescript, 21 pages. Moderate revision. 27 x 21 cm. The text begins ‘X: Je suis aveugle, et paralysé, des membres inférieurs uniquement.’’ J.K.]

1954. Abandoned prose

Manuscript, 7 pages, contained in notebook above.  Moderate revision.

Largely illegible prose passage in French, beginning ‘(?) aussi il faut (?) cette poussière-là, c’est la seine excuse. L’empêcher de refaire is chose qu’elle fit, avant le noiement.’ Trinity College Library, Dublin.

Before 1955. Mime du Rêveur A, play

Typescript, 4 pages. Extensive revision, many deletions. 27 x 21 cm.

Stage directions for ‘wordless playlet’ in French about a man in a rocking chair in the middle of a darkened room. Text, implies a second, or B, set of directions not located. Foresees many later plays, notably Fin de partie. Dartmouth College Library. Copy in the University of Reading Library.

Before 1955. Abandoned play

Typescript and manuscript, 10 pages. Very infrequent revisions. 25 x 21 cm.

Late draft of a play in French which opens with Ernest, infirm, his face covered with a handkerchief and a champagne bucket around his neck, being attended by his wife, Alice. Many parallels with Fin de partie and undoubtedly anterior to it. Frequent biblical overtones, including a scene in which Alice and Ernest’s mother wash his feet (which are ticklish). The University of Reading Library.

1956. The gloaming, play

Manuscript, 16 pages. 21 x 17 cm.

Original English version of abandoned play in which a blind beggar, A, converses with B, immobilized in a wheelchair, about the possibility of living out their days together. A later version in French was published in Minuit, 8 (March 1974. 65-72.) The University of Reading Library. [An English version, translated directly from the French and not simply an amended version of The gloaming, is to appear in Ends and odds, (London, Faber and Faber, predicted for April 1977). J.K.]

1958. Abandoned play

a) Manuscript, 33 pages, in notebook. Extensive revision, many passages stricken. Doodles and stage diagrams. 22 x 17 cm.

b) Typescript, 14 pages. Infrequent revision. 27 x 21 cm.

c) Typescript, 13 pages. Infrequent revision. 27 x 21 cm.

Substantial fragment of play for three characters: A, B and C plus two birds in a cage at the back of the stage. A and B converse seated facing each other across identical tables. C, standing at the back of the room, is silent. See Knowlson (373). The manuscript is at Trinity College Library, Dublin, the typescripts at the University of Reading Library. [As Théâtre 2 this abandoned play is due to appear for the first time in a special Beckett number of L’Herne. Beckett has translated it into English and it will also appear in Ends and odds. J.K.]

ca. 1963. Abandoned play

Manuscript, 9 pages, in a notebook containing early drafts of Paroles et musique and Play. Extensive revision, doodles, diagrams. 22 x 17 cm.

Fragment of play in English for two characters, Mother and Son, ‘naked under coats.’ Earliest section marked ‘J.M. Mime.’ Involved geometric patterns indicate movement along paths the pair seems condemned to follow. At one point a stool moves to centre of stage in response to a wish for rest, then collapses under weight of the mother. See Knowlson (375). Trinity College, Dublin.

1967-8. Abandoned play

Manuscript of substantial length in small notebook.

Fragment of play described in Knowlson (376). Apparently two versions, written first for two female characters, then for one female and one male. Loaned by Beckett to the exhibition in his honour held at Reading University in 1971. Present location unknown.

1967-8 (?). Abandoned play

Typescript, 5 pages. Infrequent revision. 27 x 21 cm.

Two monologues with stage directions, two pages each, both marked ‘Petit Odéon.’ Each is set in what seems to be a hospital room and centres around a discussion of injections and/or transfusions. The first ends with the memory of a long and difficult voyage through a region white with bones; the second includes detailed calculations about the number of doses contained in demijohn bottles. These pages, of which earlier versions must have existed, bear some resemblance to the fragment cited above, which also contains intricate calculations about doses administered by a syringe. The University of Reading Library. [They are, I confirm, slightly modified extracts from the above manuscript. J.KJ

Before 1972. Abandoned radio play

a) Typescript, 10 pages. Moderate revision. 27 x 21 cm.

b) Typescript, 12 pages. Infrequent revision. 27 x 21 cm.

Radio play in French for four characters: L’Animateur, La Dactylo, Fox, and Dick, who is listed as mute. Not the earliest drafts. Probably written in the late fifties. The University of Reading Library. [This has now been published in Minuit 16, November 1975. 2-12, as Pochade radiophonique. An English translation was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Beckett’s seventieth birthday, 13 April 1976. It was produced and directed by Martin Esslin and had Harold Pinter as the Animator, Billie Whitelaw as the Stenographer, and Patrick Magee as Fox; Michael Deacon wielded the whip as Dick. My own dating for this play would be ca. 1962. Beckett dates it in Minuit 16 as ‘années 60?.’ J.K.]

1972-3. Prose piece

a) Manuscript, 1 page. Extensive revision. 27 x 21 cm.

b) Manuscript, 2 pages. Extensive revision. 29 x 21 cm.

c) Manuscript; 3 pages. Moderate revision. 27 x 21 cm.

d) Typescript, 2 pages. Moderate revision. 27 x 21 cm.

e) Typescript, 2 pages. Infrequent revision. 27 x 21 cm.

f) Typescript, 2 pages. Infrequent revision. 27 x 21 cm.

g) Carbon of f) above, 2 pages. Infrequent revision. 27 x 21 cm.

Recent 600-word prose passage in English, on the themes of stillness and sound. Second manuscript is entitled Sounds. Likely to appear in print. The University of Reading Library.

1973. ‘Still 3,’ prose text

a) Manuscript, 3 pages. Extensive revision and deletions. 29 x 21 cm.

b) Typescript, 1 page. Infrequent revision. 29 x 21 cm.

Brief passage in English similar to the item above and related to the recently published French text Immobile in Pour finir encore et autres foirades (Paris, Éditions de Minuit, 1976). Likely to appear in print. The University of Reading Library.

This list, like previous ones, is only tentative, for it seems certain that more material exists, perhaps a great deal of it, in private hands or scattered in libraries. Information about the location of unpublished material is most welcome, and, if feasible, descriptions of new items will be listed in the pages of this review.