Beckett bibliography after Federman and Fletcher


Robin J. Davis


The publication in 1970 of Raymond Federman and John Fletcher’s Samuel Beckett: his works and his critics1 was a landmark in Beckett studies and an example of transatlantic cooperation. People soon began to refer to books by Beckett by their ‘FF’ number, and the bibliography they had compiled became a standard reference work. In the general discussion that took place following its appearance,2 several questions emerged which need with increasing urgency to be answered if Beckett studies are to continue to thrive properly, and I wish in this paper to discuss these questions and suggest ways in which they may be answered.


Federman and Fletcher intended their bibliography to be as complete as possible up to 1966, though, almost inevitably, there are some gaps and inaccuracies. The position now is that the size of literature on Beckett has more than doubled. The state of the primary bibliography is equally unsatisfactory for Beckett has continued writing, translating and producing, and his publishers have persuaded him to let them reprint some of his earlier work. Much of the necessary information has, it is true, been available to those with the patience to look for it. Manuals such as the Year’s work in modern language studies review recent critical work but are extremely selective. The scholar intent on keeping up to date has to look regularly at the national bibliographies, search BLAISE and LIBCON,3 study French XX, Rancoeur, the MLA Bibliography, scan Abstracts of English studies, MLA Abstracts, Dissertation abstracts international, Aslib’s Index to theses—and so on. The Calepins de bibliographie series published by Minard (Lettres modernes) should have filled the gap to some extent by providing at regular intervals a current cumulating (but deliberately non-selective) bibliography. The simple chronological sequence and the provision of blank pages for notes and additional information made a sensible working format. Unfortunately publication appears to have run into difficulties and coverage has not gone beyond 1972. The first part of the original Calepin Beckett,4 the ‘bibliographie des oeuvres’ was to have appeared in a second edition, thoroughly revised and brought up to date, in Lettres modernes ‘Bibliothèque’ series. This will no longer be published in that form. By its very nature, this work could have been only a supplement to Federman and Fletcher’s magnum opus. Now there are only the attempts of almost every writer on Beckett to list briefly what has been published in the appendices to their own books.


Bibliographers of Samuel Beckett face peculiar difficulties which may be classified under two broad headings, those involved in compilation and those involved in the recording and publishing of the information.


The variety of forms in which his works appear, the number of places in which they are published and performed, the complexity of modern publishing, the inadequacy of printed sources of information and of the many public collections of manuscript and printed material are factors which conspire to make the discovery and identification of his works a far from easy task. His early works, especially before the war, frequently took the form of unsigned reviews, translations or other contributions, the review by ‘Andrew Belis,’ 1934, being only one example among several. Beckett’s contribution to periodicals such as the post-war transition is again larger than a persual of its issues for the sight of his name would reveal. Currently the scene is notable for the number of extracts that appear, either as originals or as reprints in anthologies such as those in the Penguin series, or in periodicals literary and general, such as the fashion magazine Vogue which featured his ‘Smeraldina’s billet-doux’ in 1970. Translations, a category ignored by Federman and Fletcher, are published all over the world,5 often with the original French or English version alongside. The German editions of these may be the most familiar but others have appeared elsewhere. See for example the version of From an abandoned work in Paragone, 1966. Beckett’s work is also published in those limited, expensive and often hors-commerce editions that are produced for the book collector. They often contain interesting and significant variants from the versions published more widely. Still is one of the more recent of these. There are other problems perhaps not peculiar to Beckett such as the difficulty of distinguishing between American and British states of similar editions, between versions in paper or in board covers, and between dust-jacket variants, the reissue of old texts with new titles, and the general misuse in all languages of the word ‘edition.’


Other problems are raised by Beckett’s activities as a director of his own dramatic works. Which version of the text was used for performance? Was it modified in the course of rehearsal? If we wish to consider the part Beckett plays as a director or producer, whether his own view of that role has changed over the years, and whether indeed his view of his own work has altered significantly, the establishment of the facts about the text and the stage directions becomes of vital importance. Radio and television add further complications because performances may be unique.


A lot of information is elusive. Published catalogues and general bibliographies do not record all the information required, for in spite of the Paris Conference of 1960, the Anglo-American Code (second edition on its way), and other advances in the world of librarianship, the form and detail of bibliographic description still varies between bibliographies from different countries. Analytical cataloguing of anthologies and periodicals is rare, though indexes to the latter are certainly more readily available than they used to be. Few libraries, moreover, can claim to have truly comprehensive collections, their holdings varying considerably according to national bias and available finance. The lack of resources means that even copyright deposit libraries rarely collect more than the original impression of a book, even ‘wealthy’ libraries fail to buy collectors’ editions, and all libraries have more difficulty in obtaining foreign books than those published at home. At least access to most libraries is unrestricted to the bona fide student, the libraries and archives of broadcasting companies being sometimes the exception to this rule.6


The second major area of difficulty, once information has been collated, is recording and disseminating it. The conventional bibliography is complicated in its typography and layout and restricted in its potential market. Obtaining information takes time, the preparation of copy causes more delay, and most bibliographies are as a result out of date from the moment they are published. Federman and Fletcher’s was four years out of date when it eventually appeared. Costs too have soared. In 1970 you had to pay fifteen dollars for the Federman and Fletcher volume. The Calepin Beckett in 1971 was 100 francs. A standard bibliography of Gerard Manley Hopkins was priced in 1976 at £17.50 and one of Valéry at the huge figure of 475 francs.7 Examples could be multiplied but they point to the unlikelihood of a second edition of Federman and Fletcher on the same lines as before, especially when we consider how many volumes it might have to be to include all the facts it would have to contain. The whole point of bibliography as a service to others rather than an end in itself would be lost if only a few select individuals and the wealthiest institutions felt able to support such a specialized work.


Bibliography in this sense is part of the information science scene, which is concerned above all with retrieving and directing useful information to those most needing it. It is also obvious, and the reviews of Federman and Fletcher bear this out, that different people seek different things from a bibliography. The great majority of those interested in the slightest degree in a writer such as Beckett want to know first what he has written, the different items and genres, and then which are the best things to read about him—which may mean selecting from the ten per cent of that output that is in languages other than French or English. Scholars often follow the writings of particular colleagues and for them anything by such people will have a special interest. Some are interested to know about productions of Beckett’s plays, and not necessarily solely world premières or those productions in which Beckett himself is known to have taken part. Others look for information on recordings, broadcasts, adaptations, not to mention sculpture8, drawings and other artistic creations based on Beckett. Federman and Fletcher, through the wealth of personal notes they added to the conventional bibliographic detail, transformed their book into a valuable source of information on Beckett himself, and there is surely a place for those wanting to see this, as well as correspondence and other bibliographical detail.


The bibliographer responds to these several needs basically in two ways. Firstly he attempts systematically to retrieve from monograph and periodical literature, and also nowadays from ‘non-book’ material such as tapes, radio and television, all that is connected with his subject in whatever language. The compiler of a bibliography of Beckett’s own works sets out initially to establish the facts for a description and history of each work in its physical manifestation. He is concerned with finding the evidence by which the textual scholar can trace the relationship between the manuscript and the published text and between the different editions of the published text. His knowledge of the role of the printer and the publisher has to take into account facsimile transmission and international publishing. As we have seen, there is also the problem of the relationship of the published text to the text as performed. This is only the first stage.


The second stage builds on this foundation and complements it. If on the first level a bibliography helps us to avoid errors and draws particular facts or pieces of evidence to our attention, on a higher level it can also prepare and stimulate further scholarship, and especially relevant scholarship. Talking of bibliotextual criticism for instance reminds us of the need to study in detail Beckett’s relationships with his printers and publishers, while the major figures in the story are still with us, so that we understand in more depth how his manuscripts are translated into the printed word. How much does he read proofs? To what extent has he been in the habit of washing his hands of a work he has finished writing, once it passes to Jérôme Lindon or John Calder or whoever may be concerned with it? There are many other aspects of this relationship readers may want to explore. Another example of the way bibliography may be of direct assistance to us is in providing the necessary information for those intent on editing a critical ‘collected works’ of Beckett. The absence of such an edition as a recent writer9 brought to our notice in respect of his poetry and his essays means that adequate assessment of his achievements in these areas is difficult for the ordinary student who has access only to comparatively recently published and in print material. Much of Beckett’s work has still to be retrieved from the pages of anthologies and magazines now no longer widely available. A bibliographical study10 of Beckett’s activity as a translator, which is an aspect of his work that is very well known yet astonishingly little studied, reveals that there are whole areas of his work that he has never translated, and several important works unobtainable to the monolingual reader, particularly if he happens to be French. A further study in which I am presently engaged (on translation of his work into languages other than French or English) again highlights not just the literary importance at a given historical moment of Beckett’s work but can also show us profitable areas for linguistic study. Good bibliography pinpoints the gaps in our knowledge and brings to attention areas of neglect.


Because of the complexities of coping with Beckett bibliographically, his work gives plenty of scope for anyone interested in the subject of author-bibliography in the twentieth century, as there is little agreement among bibliographers on what should constitute a common approach to this problem. Beckett provides fascinating scope for the student of bibliography. In the immediate future, however, we must ensure for the sake of the student of Beckett himself, the continuation of the ‘basic’ bibliography of primary and secondary material, of published and unpublished work. By ‘basic’ I mean a catalogue of his works and of writings about those works, professionally compiled with no greater ambition than giving a standard bibliographic description of each item, without quasi-facsimile transcription of title pages and detailed analysis of the physical make-up of the books. The ideal would be to publish this basic information widely in as cheap and handy a format as possible and provide the detailed descriptions only to those who were prepared to subscribe to them in, say, microform. Secondly we need regular reviews of the most important features of Beckett publishing. The sheer quantity of material produced by and about Beckett makes such a review system imperative. Reviews need to tell us the major new works published in a year, as distinct from the welter of yet more reprints of (for example) Our exagmination ..., as well as to examine the critical writings of the period.


In conclusion let us hope the Journal of Beckett Studies flourishes, and the society of friends of Samuel Beckett makes it a live forum for dissemination of information as well as debate. I may hope too that this society will give full support to any bibliographic ventures of the kind I have proposed in this paper.


1 Raymond Federman and John Fletcher, Samuel Beckett: his works and his critics. An essay in bibliography, Berkeley and London, University of California Press, 1970. pp.xiii, 383. ISBN 0 520 1475 8, 15 dollars.

2 Reviews of FF:

Ruby Cohn, ‘Beckett books of the 1970’s,’ Education theatre journal, vol. 25, no. 2, May 1973, 243-51.

William R. Elwood, (title), French review, vol. 45, no. 1, October 1971, 241-2.

Lawrence Graver, ‘Wipe your glasses on what you know,’ New republic, vol. 163, no. 2, 11 July 1970, 23-4.

David Hayman, (title), James Joyce quarterly, Summer 1971, 413-? (Index to book reviews in the humanities)

James Knowlson, (title), French studies, vol.27, no.4, October 1973. 486-7. ‘The residual Beckett,’ Times literary supplement, no. 3736, 12 October 1973, 1217-8.

Eric Sellin, (title), Modern language journal, vol. 56, no. 7, November 1972, 454-5.

- and many brief notices in other journals

3 BLAISE - British Library Automated Information Service.
LIBCON - Library of Congress database

4 Samuel Beckett: essai de bibliographie des oeuvres de Samuel Beckett (1929-1966) par R.J.Davis; essai de bibliographie des études en langues française et anglaise consacrées à Samuel Beckett par J.R. Bryer et M.J. Friedman; complément (1929-1969) par P.C. Hoy, avec une esquisse de bibliographie des études en d’autres langues Paris, Lettres modernes, Unpaginated. 100FF.

5 About 250 translations of his work are known in over 30 languages. Godot has been translated twice as much as any other single item, but few texts have escaped translation. The Germans have translated almost everything. The Japanese have been the keenest translators outside Europe.

6 The British Broadcasting Corporation have just announced two microfiche catalogues of their radio and television drama, poetry and features up to 1975. Publisher Chadwick Healey, Somerset House.

7 Tom Dunne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, a comprehensive bibliography. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976, xxvi, 394. ISBN 0 19 818158 2, £17.50.
Georges Karaïskis and François Chapon, Bibliographie des oeuvres de Paul Valéry, publiées de 1889 à 1965, Paris, Auguste Blaizot, 1976. ISBN 2 900200 0 6, 475FF.

8 Bernard Meadow’s ‘livre-objet’ entitled Molloy is surely one of the strangest artistic creations based on work by Beckett.

9 John Pilling, Samuel Beckett, London and Boston, Routledge and Kagan Paul, 1976, pp.x, 244. ISBN 0710 0 8323 8, £5.75.

10 Robin J. Davis, ‘Beckett as translator,’ Long room, no.14, Spring 1977 (in press).