‘Samuel Beckett: checklist and index of his published works 1967-1976’

compiled by Robin J. Davis. The Library, University of Stirling, 1979. 71 pp. £5.

 

Breon Mitchell

 

In JOBS 3, Malcolm Page expounded upon the perils of bibliography, expressing his irritation at a few recent examples, mingled with his ‘gratitude to the harmless drudges who have done so much tedious work.’ Robin J. Davis, in JOBS 2, had given his own version of the problems and pitfalls faced by every bibliographer, albeit in a somewhat more sympathetic form. Both agree that a bibliography should be clear in its scope, simple in its format, and adequately cross-referenced. In his Checklist 1967-1976, Davis attempts to satisfy these criteria and fill an obvious gap in Beckett bibliography.

 

The Checklist excludes works about Beckett, and translations except where they accompany the original text. It is arranged chronologically, and alphabetically by title within each year. Standard bibliographical information for each title is provided, including the nature of the binding. The contents of each item are clearly listed, and are repeated in the right-hand margin next to the entry for easier reference. Complete name and title indices are keyed to the individual entry numbers. In all these respects the Checklist may be judged a success, for it provides a great deal of helpful information unavailable in any other form. It therefore takes its place as an indispensable adjunct to Beckett studies. It is a pleasure to note that the bibliography is also relatively inexpensive production costs have obviously been kept to a minimum (xeroxed typescript with a simple but serviceable binding).

 

In providing a detailed and relatively complete compilation of Beckett’s works during the ten years following Federman and Fletcher’s pioneering effort, Robin J. Davis certainly deserves more than the grudging gratitude of Beckett scholars, in spite of the inevitable gaps and occasional inaccuracies. But the Checklist is not without its more serious drawbacks. Some of these still seem tied to the nature of bibliography itself; others result from editorial decisions.

 

To begin with, the bibliography is already out of date—we remain at least five years behind our needs. Secondly, although corrections and additions may be received by the compiler, it is unlikely that these will be made quickly and readily available to Beckett scholars, just as the wealth of such information which enlarges upon the earlier Federman and Fletcher work still remains unavailable in any systematic form. The one attempt at an ongoing Beckett bibliography (in the Calepins de bibliographie series) foundered in 1972. Clearly, some alternate method of publishing is needed; to my mind Davis at least points in the right direction.

 

With regard to editorial decisions, the abbreviated descriptions of the bindings are particularly disappointing. Bibliographers and literary scholars realize that binding variants often point to textual variants as well, and that the dust-jacket of a book provides a great deal of information crucial to reception studies and bibliographical questions alike. Yet Davis limits binding descriptions to an often imprecise ‘cloth’ or ‘paperback,’ without another word, even as to colour. Even more distressing is the decision to ignore totally the question of dust-jackets. The usefulness of the Checklist is thus severely limited for both the scholar and collector. This problem could easily have been solved in the case of the bindings. Dust-jackets pose another difficulty. Davis was often forced to rely on copies seen in various libraries in England and America, where dust-jackets are routinely discarded in the first place, leaving the compiler in the dark. Nevertheless, more information in this area, even if it had meant a good deal more work, would have improved the Checklist considerably. In his JOBS essay, Davis suggests that more detailed descriptions should be provided only ‘to those who [are] prepared to subscribe to them in, say, microform.’ No mention is made in the Checklist of such an option.

 

There is also a disturbing lack of bibliographical consistency in the descriptive notes. To take one example, the first French editions of Beckett’s works, and other special editions intended for collectors, appear in a variety of printings, often on varying papers. Davis sometimes indicates these in detail, but at other times he simply ignores them, even when the copy being described comes from his own collection and the information is thus readily available to him. Finally, we should note that no attempt has been made in the Checklist to follow the general arrangement of Federman and Fletcher. Although Davis’s arrangement is far simpler, it lacks the clarity which might have resulted from some attempt to separate major from minor appearances of Beckett’s work. Here everything is thrown together as it randomly appeared, from reprints of short extracts in yet another textbook, to an invitation card for a new Arikha exhibition, to a letter signed by Beckett (along with around one hundred other signatories) in Le Monde. All of this information is welcome—it would be good to have it in some more clearly differentiated format. There is, however, no point in waiting for bibliographers to agree on how best to arrange their material. With all the good intentions in the world, it appears that Beckett bibliography will continue to be a piecemeal operation for years to come.