Beckett, Proust, and ‘Dream of Fair to Middling Women’
Dream to fair to middling women is the Loch Ness Monster of Beckettian fiction: most critics have heard of it and believe that it exists, but few have actually seen it.1 Those critics who have read this unpublished novel are unanimous that it affords an important introduction to Beckett’s published writings, and seem agreed that the hero of this novel, Belacqua, aspires above all to ‘retreat into the wider freedom of the mind’, thereby attaining ‘release into the microcosm’.2 Such conclusions conveniently confirm most critical interpretations of Beckett’s better-known novels, but neglect the substance of Dream, for this novel not only depicts Belacqua’s initial attempt to retreat from macrocosmic reality to microcosmic reality, but also subsequently evokes his disenchantment with the microcosmic ideal, and his crucial decision to take flight from both the macrocosm and the microcosm.
Dream is also especially revealing as a work which illustrates the essential differences between Beckett’s and Proust’s respective responses to the limits of language and perception; differences frequently obscured by the prevailing critical assumption that Beckett’s essay on Proust, entitled Proust, demarcates an overlapping of Proust’s and Beckett’s ideas, and affords ‘a table of the law for any student of either Proust, or Beckett’.3 Comparison of existential vision in A la recherche du temps perdu and Dream provides a clear indication of this fundamental difference. While Proust’s narrator concludes that his novel will offer its readers ‘le moyen de lire en eux-mêmes’ (111.1033) - a proposal that Beckett annotated in his own copy of Le Temps retrouvé with the incredulous expletive ‘Balls’, the characters of Dream frequently find that there is ‘nothing to be done’ (pp. 3-4, 78, 79), while the novel’s narrator laments: ‘How can you help people, unless it be on with their corsets or to a second or third helping?’ (p. 110).4
Written in 1932, some two years after the composition of Beckett’s Proust in the late summer of 1930,5 Dream contains a number of phrases and images borrowed from both A la recherche du temps perdu and Proust, consolidating the impression that Proust’s and Beckett’s ideas overlap in some way. But whereas these borrowings retain their Proustian implications when Beckett agrees with Proust, they are deployed for very different ends on those far more frequent occasions when Beckett’s novel subverts the conclusions of A la recherche du temps perdu. More often than not the reader of Dream experiences a curious sensation of déjà lu and jamais vu: a mixture of recognition and surprise best exemplified with reference to Beckett’s transformation of one of Proust’s most striking images of tranquillity.
As John Pilling has observed, Beckett’s annotations to his copies of A la recherche du temps perdu cross-reference Proust’s repeated use of an incident in which Marcel admires the ‘impression de repos’ afforded by ‘L’invisibilité des . . oiseaux qui s’y répondaient . . . clans les arbres’.6 Employing this same image of invisible birds in Dream, Beckett transforms it into an impression of torment and chaos, as Belacqua’s friend ‘the Alba’ imagines herself to be in a forest wherein:
The birds would scuttle above bleeding in their tree-tops. A fizz of scampering birds . . . their wings were in tatters, she would not see them, desperately they would sprawl and flounder high overhead . . . a poor shoal of wounded noddies threshing aloft. (p. 137)
Together with such references to the inevitable decay of flora as: ‘the doomed flowers’, ‘the dying flowers’, and ‘the vanquished flowers’ (pp. 139, 154, 155), this image of terrified birds offers a paradigm for the horror and discord of Dream’s world, completely reversing Proust’s evocation of calm birds, and his habitual images of graceful trees and flowers (such as the hawthorns beloved by Marcel).
Similar horror and discord inform the three main areas of experience in this novel: the literary work of the author; the human relationships of love and friendship; and the individual’s self-awareness. All of these problematic experiences play a central role in Proust’s work, forming what Todorov might term the common ‘prédicats de base’ of Proust’s and Beckett’s work.7 The examination of Dream’s treatment of these three basic experiences not only indicates the difference between Proust’s and Beckett’s visions, but also prompts the conclusion that Beckett’s response to microcosmic experience is far more ambiguous than his critics have previously cared to believe.
Lawrence Harvey has suggested that in Dream Beckett is ‘quite sure what kind of novel he does not want to write’,8 and the same is certainly true of Proust’s Marcel, who unhesitatingly condemns ‘la littérature de notations’ (111.894). But whereas Proust’s narrator appears confident that he may perhaps write the kind of novel that he does want to write, Beckett’s narrator emphasizes the kind of novel that he is not able to write.
Affirming - like Proust9 - that ‘the essence of beauty is predicateless, transcending categories’ (p. 30), the narrator of Dream is certain that his novel will not be beautiful. Formal aspirations are dismissed with the ironic aside: ‘we were once upon a time inclined to fancy ourselves as the Cézanne . . . of the printed page, very strong on architectonics’ (p. 159), while the very first pages of this novel confess confusion, announcing: ‘we do not quite know where we are in this story’, and asking: ‘Is that what we mean? What do we mean?’ (pp. 7 and 10). Accordingly, the portrayal of character is dismissed as a hopeless task, exemplified by the fact that one of these, a certain ‘Nemo’, ‘cannot be made, at least by us, to stand for anything’ (p. 7). Using a musical analogy, he explains that the mysterious Nemo ‘is not a note at all but the most regrettable simultaneity of notes’ (p. 8), and thereby establishes a paradigm for all of his characters, whose multiple traits make them - like beauty itself - ‘predicateless, transcending categories’. The reader is never allowed to forget that Dream’s narrator is ‘unable to keep those boys and girls up to their notes’, and half-way through his book the narrator threatens to stop writing, complaining:
We call the whole performance off, we call the book off, it tails off in a horrid manner . . . The music comes to pieces. The notes fly all over the place . . . all we can do . . . is to deploy a curtain of silence as rapidly as possible. (p. 100)
It will become apparent that this nihilistic solution to the problems of the author has counterpoints in both of the other basic spheres of experience in this novel.
The ‘Smeraldina-Rima’, another of Belacqua’s lady-friends, epitomizes this tendency to ‘fly all over the place’. Her successive selves resist easy definition, and the narrator laments: ‘the whole four of her and many another that have not been presented because they make us tired . . . spring - zeep! - apart’ (p. 102). At best, the narrator finds that the Smeraldina-Rima’s mother produces ‘the desired monotony’, rather than zeeping apart, but only because she is what might normally be considered an underdeveloped, or indeed, undeveloped character, who ‘has had practically no occasion to be herselves’ (p. 103). At worst, characters such as Lucien offer annoyingly abundant justification for Proust’s description of life as ‘une création perpétuellement recommencée’ (111.796). Flamboyantly described as a ‘crucible of volatilisation (bravo!), an efflorescence at every moment, his contours in perpetual erosion’ (p. 103), Lucien’s appearance amply confirms Belacqua’s hypothesis that ‘The reality of the individual . . . is an incoherent reality’ (p. 91). The narrator detects similar incoherence in all of his characters, alluding to their tendency to fragment into ‘disintegrating bric-à-brac’ and to ‘break up into a series’ (pp. 104 and 36), and concludes:
They are no good from the builder’s point of view, firstly because they will not suffer their systems to be absorbed in the cluster of a greater system, and . . . chiefly, because they themselves tend to disappear as systems. (p. 106)
In other words, they exemplify the repulsion from both others and from the self, that appears to be the fundamental impulse of almost all Beckettian characters.
The narrator adds that this rule of repulsion and disintegration is countered by exceptional moments when characters unexpectedly offer some kind of identity, ‘odd periods of recueillement, a kind of centripetal backwash that checks the rot’ (p. 106). These moments of ‘nervous recoil into composure’ (p. 106) may be considered as rare instances of self-confrontation or self-manifestation analogous to the ‘privileged moments’ of involuntary memory in A la recherche du temps perdu. While Marcel regrets that such moments are ‘trop rares’ (111.898), the narrator of Dream dismisses them as freak events which ‘complicate things further’, and which seem so atypical as to have ‘little to do with the story’ (p. 106). Nevertheless Beckett’s work from Dream to his most recent plays has consistently concerned such moments of surprising self-revelation. Belacqua’s most painful and most memorable experiences consist of precisely this kind of perception, while the very title of Beckett’s recent play That time; the reference to ‘the odd time’ (of undesirable self-awareness) in the recent poem ‘something there’; and the manuscript note to an early version of Not I suggesting that this play concerns a ‘rare occasion’ of self-discovery, all bear witness to Beckett’s obsession with variants of undesirable involuntary memory.10
This obsession coexists with Beckett’s awareness that any characterization based upon permanent states of unity and self-knowledge obscures the reality of man’s habitual inconsistency and confusion. Chastising traditional novelists, such as Balzac, for smothering this inconsistency and confusion under a veneer of implausible coherence, Dream’s narrator comments:
The procédé that seems all falsity, that of Balzac, for example . . . consists in dealing with . . . this backwash, as though that were the whole story. Whereas in reality . . . one must be excessively concerned with a total precision to allude to it at all! (p. 106)
Accordingly, Balzac’s world is a world of ‘an unreal permanence of quality’, in which he is ‘absolute master’; a ‘chloroformed world’ assigning ‘precise value’ to reality ‘artificially immobilised in a backwash of composure’; and thus a world in which the novelist may ‘juggle politely with irrefragable values, values that can assimilate other values like in kind and be assimilated by them’ (p 106).
While Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu reconciles the law of perceptual confusion with exceptional odd moments of perceptual lucidity in which characters discover their ‘precise value’, Beckett’s fiction contains few, if any, positive exceptions to the rule of perceptual confusion. Indeed, it might even be argued that the permanence of perceptual confusion and anguish in Beckett’s world is as artificial as the permanence of precise values in Balzac’s world. At best, Beckett’s characters suffer ‘unprivileged’ moments of painful self-awareness; moments affording the negative alternative of a perceptual fire to the perceptual frying-pan of man’s habitual uncertainties.
In a statement reminiscent of Marcel’s exasperated references to ‘cent’ Albertines (111.478), to the fact that ‘aucune mathématique’ permits the conversion of the human subject into ‘quantités homogènes (11.570), and to his confusion before ‘des séries d’Albertine séparées les unes des autres, incomplètes’ (111.149), the narrator deplores that’ Belacqua cannot be petrified in the moment of recoil, of backwash into composure, any more that the rest of them’. ‘At his simplest trine’, Belacqua ‘is no more satisfied by . . . three values . . . than he would be by fifty values, or any number of values’. Of these very values, the narrator observes:
Are they simple themselves? Like hell they are! Can we measure them once and for all and do sums with them like those impostors that they call mathematicians? We can not. We can state them as a succession of terms, but we can’t sum them and we can’t define them. They tail off vaguely at both ends and the intervals of their series are demented . . . Thus little by little Belacqua may be described, but not circumscribed; his terms stated, but not summed. And of course God’s will be done should one description happen to cancel the next, or the terms appear crazily spaced. (pp. 110-11)
In the same text in which he introduces the concept of the novel’s ‘Prédicats de base’, Todorov adds that any analysis of a novelist’s treatment of these categories should be situated within a moral context - in Todorov’s terms: ‘La description de chaque partie de l’histoire comporte son appréciation morale; l’absence d’une appréciation represente une prise de position tout aussi significative’.11 Denying the moral significance of actions and decisions in A la recherche du temps perdu, Beckett’s Proust explains - or tries to explain - Marcel’s final unconfused revelations in terms of the accident of his will-less ‘purity’, maintaining that Marcel is uniquely gifted with ‘transcendental apperception that can capture the Model, the Idea, the Thing in Itself’ (Proust, p. 90).12 Like his Proust, Beckett’s Dream seems to reject any suggestion that perception is conditioned by moral norms, since it makes scarcely any reference to morality at all. But unlike Beckett’s Proust, Dream also quite explicitly rejects the concept of the `pure subject’ accidentally blessed with transcendental apperception.
This rejection of amoral modes of pure perception becomes particularly clear in a passage elaboration the narrator’s musical imagery, in which the narrator discusses his characters in terms of male liŭ and female liŭ, regretting that his work is a normless composition, and explaining:
What is needed of course is a tuning fork, faithful unto death . . . to mix with the treacherous liŭs and liŭs and get a line on them . . . someone who could be always relied on for . . . the right squawk in the right place, just one pure permanent liŭ or liŭ. . . and all might yet be well. Just one, only one, tuning-fork charlatan to move among the notes and size ‘em up and steady ‘em down and chain ‘em together . . . . and consolidate the entire article . . . We picked Belacqua for the job and now we find he is not able for it. (p. 112)
A number of passages in Dream similarly emphasize that Belacqua’s experience is devoid of the kind of transcendental experiences and insights that permit the initially confused Marcel to emerge as the ‘tuning fork’ of A la recherche du temps perdu.
Beckett’s Proust acknowledges that ‘Music is the catalytic element in the work of Proust’, since it `asserts to his unbelief in the permanence of personality and the reality of art’ (Proust, p. 92). Neither Dream’s narrator, nor Belacqua, receive any musical intimation of the permanence and reality of either the personality or art. Instead, the narrator carefully distinguishes his narrative from Marcel’s illuminating meditations upon Vinteuil’s Sonate (111.248-64), dismissing such speculations as an undesirable narrative ploy surpassing his patience:
Why we want to drag in the Syra-Cusa at this juncture it passes our persimmon to say. She belongs to another story . . . We could chain her up with the Smeraldina-Rima and the little Alba . . . and make it look like a sonata, with recurrence of themes, key signatures, plagal finale and all . . . She could be coaxed into most anything . . . A paragraph ought to fix her. (p. 43)
Just as the narrator lacks either the energy or the inclination to interpret his characters in terms of any music save the aforementioned ‘horrid’ notes that lead him to ‘call the whole performance off’ (p. 100), so too does Belacqua lack the ability to emulate Marcel’s final visionary disquisition on ‘Le Temps’ (111.1048). Abruptly, and almost triumphantly announcing this shortcoming in his hero, the narrator confides: ‘Had he any sense of his responsibilities as a epic NO he would favour us now with an incondite meditation on time. He has none and he does not’ (p. 200).
Even when inadvertently duplicating the circumstance that initiates Marcel’s final flood of involuntary memories, Belacqua’s feet stay quite literally on the ground, rather than ascending to the realm of atemporal revelation. Marcel’s most important ‘mystical experience’ - ‘the miracle of the courtyard’ (Proust, pp. 69 and 71) - begins when he stumbles over a cobble-stone, and suddenly remembers the ‘radiant essence’ (Proust, p. 70) of Venice, as he transcends the everyday reality of ‘la foule innombrable des wattmen’ (111.867). Belacqua has no such luck. Daydreaming about his variant of this experience, in a passage generating a heady mixture of alliterative impersonal narrative and disintegrating bilingual interior monologue, Belacque suggests that it was conducive of physical distress, rather than metaphysical enchantment. He muses (or perhaps both the narrator and Belacqua muse - the source(s) of this meditation are not clear):
he trundled through the Tuileries . . . clutching his bladder beneath his chic shower-proof. The wattmen tittered as I tottered on purpose for radiant Venice to solve my life. Mes pieds. Mes larges pieds. (p. 73)
Briefly, both the narrator of Dream (who for obvious reasons makes most of the complaints in Dream about the difficulty of narration), and Belacqua are constantly vulnerable to unrelieved perceptual problems. In much the same way that the narrator resigns himself to ‘crazily spaced’ creativity (p. 111), Belacqua - himself an artist as a young man - concedes that if he ever manages to ‘drop a book’, it will be ‘ramshackle, tumbledown, a bone-shaker, held together with bits of twine’ (p. 124). Neither Dream’s anti-narrator nor Dream’s anti-hero have the slightest confidence in what Marcel deems the ‘infallible proportion’ (111.879), and the vérité suprême’ (111.902) of art, and just as the narrator would ‘deploy a curtain of silence as rapidly as possible’ (p. 100) in response to the problems of the writer, so too would Belacqua adopt correspondingly negative strategies when confronting the second major area of his experience - the domain of interpersonal relationships.
Echoing Beckett’s analysis of human relationships in A la recherche du temps perdu as the insoluble enigma of ‘two separate . . . dynamisms related by no system of synchronisation’ (Proust, p. 17), the narrator of Dream describes Belacqua and his ladylove, ‘the Alba’, as ‘two separate non-synchronised processes’ (p. 149). Belacqua himself describes his liaison with the Alba with much the same imagery that he uses to evoke the kind of book he might drop - as a precariously bound ‘slough of granny’s bends’, and as ‘the marsh of granny’s bends that is their relation’ (pp. 152 and 157). Evincing ‘essential incompatibility’ (p. 171), Belacqua and the Alba seem victims of their respective distaste for sexual and intellectual relationships. The Alba finds intellectuals a source of considerable mental distress, confessing: ‘I cannot have a simple relation with the cerebral type . . . I have to make it a mess and a knot and a tangle . . . So what’s the good? It’s too difficult to untie’ (p. 146). For Belacqua, similar, if not more painful, anguish results from the contradiction between his alternating disdain and desire for sexual intimacy.
One the one hand, Belacqua seems indifferent to the Alba, ‘shrinking away from contact with the frail dust of her body’ (p. 172), and cordially inviting her to ‘take a loiny cavalier servente . . . and leave me in peace’ (p. 17). Yet on the other hand, Belacqua also imagines he is with the Smeraldina-Rima during his visits to the brothels of Paris, and in his efforts ‘to extract from the whore that which was not whorish’ (that is, the essence of the Smeraldina-Rima), he confuses their values and vices. Finding that ‘It was intolerable that she should break up into a series of whores’, he suffers from ‘an abominable confusion, a fragmentation of the realities of her and him, of the reality in which she and he were related’ (pp. 36-7). The qualification of this perceptual confusion as ‘intolerable’ is similarly used to define the anguish of Marcel’s contradictory visions of Albertine, and of his grandmother (Proust, pp. 52-3 and 42). Beckett grossly oversimplifies Marcel’s response to these contradictions, by suggesting that his remedy for perceptual confusion ‘consists in obliterating the faculty of suffering’, and in ‘the ablation of desire’ (Proust, pp. 63 and 18). In fact, Marcel manifests the more positive wish to avoid the nihilism of this ‘sagesse . . . négative et stérile’ (1.864), but the negative and sterile ‘ablation of desire’ is certainly the wisdom favoured by Belacqua, who determines to inhabit ‘a Limbo purged of desire’, in order to obtain a ‘neutralisation of needs’ (pp. 38 and 107). Most of Beckett’s critics assume that this concept of the ‘ablation of desire’ implies withdrawal into the microcosm of the mind or ‘self’, so as to avoid the distractions of the macrocosm. Close inspection of Dream reveals that Belacqua finally desires something far more complicated than mere retreat into the mind.
Some indication of this complex ambition is given by the Alba, who implies that Belacqua would not only avoid all contact with other people, but would also avoid himself, because of his ‘dread of leze-personality, at his own hands or another’s’ (p. 173).13 Belacqua elaborates this ambition, determining:
I shall separate myself and the neighbour from the moon, and the lurid place that he is from the lurid place that I am; then I need not go to the trouble of hating the neighbour. I shall extinguish also, by banning the torchlight procession in the city that is I, the fatiguing lust for self-emotion. (p. 21)
Belacqua’s terms are, admittedly, imprecise, but his wish to detach himself both from his ‘neighbour’ and from the experience of ‘self-emotion’ (which seems synonymous with self-awareness of some sort), typifies his loathing for both macrocosmic and microcosmic consciousness. Anticipating the Unnamable’s later comment: ‘I’ve shut my doors against them, I’m not at home to anything’,14 Belacqua also desires ‘to find himself alone in a room . . . And troglodyse himself . . . locking the door, extinguishing, and being at home to nobody’ (p. 114). That this concept of nobody refers both to other people and to Belacqua himself, is made quite plain when the narrator specifies that Belacqua longs for ‘the emancipation . . . from identity, his own and his neighbour’s’ (p. 108).15
Those critics who interpret the Beckettian ideal as a retreat from the macrocosm to the microcosm are especially fond of illustrating this reading of Beckett’s work with reference to the passage in Beckett’s Proust which contrasts the ‘centrifugal force’ of friendship with the ‘only fertile research’ - the artist’s centripetal excavation of ‘the core of the eddy’ (Proust, pp. 66 and 65). In terms of this imagery, the Beckettian hero forsakes centrifugal sociability for centripetal self-knowledge. This tendency undoubtedly corresponds to the creative process of exemplary artists in A la recherche du temps perdu. But an essential, and surprisingly neglected passage of Dream stipulates that Belacqua is no more satisfied by the centrifugal life. Rather, he would achieve their negation. Were it only possible, he would ‘live’ no life at all. Offering repeated examples of Belacqua’s wish for neither macrocosmic nor microcosmic modes of existence, but for the ‘immunity’ of ‘neither’ and of ‘not’, the narrator expostulates:16
At his simplest he was trine. Just think of that. A trine man! Centripetal, centrifugal and . . . not. Phoebus chasing Daphne, Narcissus flying from Echo and . . . neither. Is that neat or is it not? The chase to Vienna, the flight to Paris, the slouch to Fulda, the relapse into Dublin and . . . immunity like hell from journeys and cities. The hand to Lucien and Liebert and the Syra-Cusa tendered and withdrawn and again tendered and again withdrawn and . . . hands forgotten. (p. 107)
Incapable of attaining this ideal immunity from other and from the self, Belacqua becomes an unwilling fly in the web of human relationships. Lacking friendship, he suffers ‘profoundly’, because ‘never by any chance at any time, did he mean anything at all to his inferiors’. Unlike Beckett’s subsequent characters, Belacqua initially desires everyday social intercourse:
Yet it is not so very wide of the mark to say that day after day, year in and out, he could enter at the same hour the same store to make some trifling indispensable purchase . . . and never know his assiduity to be recognised by as much as smile or a kind word or the smallest additional attention. (p. 113)
Distressed by ‘this boycott’ (p. 114), Belacqua discovers love to be a source of a still more distressing ‘horrible confusion’, engendering ‘fiascos and tears and an absence of all douceness’ (pp. 37 and 16). It is undeniable that Marcel is similarly tormented by passionate love in A la recherche du temps perdu. Yet Marcel is also a fly in both the web and the consoling ointment of human relationships, since the torments of passionate love are to some extent counterbalanced by the benevolent love that he receives from his grandmother, and by the selfless friendship initially offered to him by Sant-Loup. Unacquainted with such positive human relationships, Belacqua rejects friendship and love as radically as he abandons the possibility of ever composing an orderly novel. The rejection of all human intercourse, or in Belacqua’s terms, the desire to ‘troglodyse’ the self, and to inhabit a state of ‘not’ and ‘neither’, overlaps with his response to the third main area of his experience - the domain of self-perception. This complicated aspect of Belacqua’s existence is best introduced obliquely, with reference to the implications of Beckett’s account of involuntary memory in his Proust, and with reference to his earlier short story ‘Assumption’, of 1929.
Beckett’s Proust, like a number of other studies of A la recherche du temps perdu, demonstrates the way in which Proust contrasted the obscurity of habitual perception with the brightness - or ‘vision éblouissante’ (111.867) - of involuntary memory and of art. Beckett very significantly refers to the ‘intolerable brightness’ (Proust, p. 70),17 of Marcel’s final revelation, qualifying this perceptual clarity with the same adjective that he previously associated with perceptual confusion (Proust, pp. 53 and 42), and thereby suggesting that all modes of intense perception provoke intolerable suffering. This implication finds little substantiation in Proust’s novel, but is well exemplified in Dream, and in Beckett’s earlier short story, ‘Assumption’. The narrator of this story very interestingly differentiates between habitual perception, and its intense inhabitual counterpart, by defining their aesthetic variants as ‘the pleasure of Prettiness’ and ‘the pain of Beauty’, adding:18
Before no supreme manifestation of Beauty do we proceed comfortably up a staircase of sensation, and sit down mildly on the topmost stair to digest our gratification.
In other words, habitual perceptions are equated with ‘pleasure’, ‘comfort’, and the mildly disturbing activity of proceeding up a relatively orderly and relatively pretty ‘staircase of sensation’, whereas habitual perceptions, or the intensity of beauty, can only provoke ‘pain’ (which this story associates with the ‘breathless’ ascent of a ‘sheer crag’).19
Beckett elaborates this idiosyncratic - and indeed, ‘anti- Proustian’ -interpretation of intense perception in Dream, where he completely reverses the function of the light symbolism outlined in Proust. For while Proust contrasts the obscurity of habitual vision and the advantageous brightness of inhabitual perception, Dream advocates the virtues of perceptual gloom as a valuable antidote to both the ‘workaday glare’ (p. 170) of habitual awareness, and the ‘inward glare’ (p. 110) of intense, inhabitual self-awareness. The ‘workaday glare’ creates the confusion that Belacqua discovers when he tries to define such friends as the Smeraldina-Rima, who-as the narrator observes - is quite simply ‘not demonstrable’ (p. 11). Far more consequential for Belacqua are the problems resulting from the ‘inward glare’ of intense consciousness. These problems usually result from the inhabitual awareness or remembrance of doomed love, of the creative impulse, of music, and of his own identity.
Belacqua suffers ‘from time to time’ from painful memories of the Smeraldina-Rima: a fact we learn from the narrator, who both cynically and clinically comments: ‘She continued to bother him as an infrequent jolt of sentimental heartburn, nothing to write home about. Better, he thought, the old belch than the permanent gripe’ (p. 97). While Marcel obviously suffers from similar memories of Albertine, he qualifies these as being both painful and pleasurable: ‘les souvenirs de ses trahisons. . . en même temps que ceux de sa douceur’ (111.535). Later Beckettian heroes, such as Krapp and the hero of Comment c’est, also manifest dread and fascination when recalling past love. But as a novel equating love and memories of love with ‘an absence of all douceness’ (p. 16), Dream deploys them more simply, as symptoms of the torments of intense perception. Belacqua’s creative impulses serve the same function.
Far from suggesting that Belacqua’s creative impulses cause the ‘ecstasy’ (Proust, p. 76) that Beckett associated with Marcel’s ‘joies artistiques’ (111.892), Dream presents these impulses in imagery very reminiscent of that applied to the ‘fizz of scampering birds’ (p. 137), implying that artistic inspiration is indistinguishable from blind panic. As a force destroying tranquility, ‘the mind achieving creation’ is characterized as the nauseous transition from the mind ‘entombed’, to the mind ‘active in an anger and a rhapsody of energy . . . scurrying and plunging towards exitus’ (p. 14). Nothing could be further from Marcel’s response to creative inspiration. For Marcel, aesthetic inspiration portends aesthetic resurrection, making him indifferent to death, save as a force which might cut short the creative process permitting the ‘immortality’ of the artist’s work (111.1037). Cherishing the sanctity of the tomb, and desiring nothing more than to be mentally ‘entombed’, Belacqua dreads any possibility of mental resurrection, while his chum the ‘Polar Bear’, like the later Murphy,20 rails against Christ’s ‘megalomaniacal interference in the affairs of his friend Lazarus’ (p. 187).
Belacqua therefore detests intense memories activated by the evocative musical phrase. Whereas Vinteuil’s ‘céleste phrase’ gives Marcel ‘une joie ineffable’ (111.258 and 260), Belacqua responds to a musical phrase in much the same way as he suffers ‘sentimental heartburn’, finding it ‘moaning in his memory’, and ‘coming now to a head in . . . a stress of remembrance’ (p. 204). The narrator’s response to the term ‘grace-notes’ is especially revealing. While Beckett treats this concept with a certain reverence in Proust, where he applies it to Vinteuil’s Septuor (Proust, p. 35), it receives heavy-handed mockery in Dream’s references to ‘the shakes and grace-note strangulations and enthrottlements of the Winkelmusik of Szopen or Pichon or Chopinek or Chopinetto or whosoever it was’ (pp. 12-13 and 61).
Proustian values are again reversed in those passages describing Belacqua’s moments of involuntary self-awareness; passages which are particularly interesting as counter-versions of the ‘fish’, ‘tunnel’, and ‘light’ imagery employed by Proust. Proust’s ‘fish’ image appears in a passage discussing the perils of eccentric perceptual categories, in which Marcel compares Charlus to ‘le poisson qui croft que l’eau où il nage s’étend au delà du verre de son aquarium qui lui en présente le reflet’. Marcel adds that such a naive fish has no idea that a malevolent passerby ‘le tirera sans pitié du mileu où il aimait vivre pour le rejeter dans un autre’ (11.1049), implying that Charlus might have spared himself the cruel machinations of Mme Verdurin, had he interpreted Parisian society less megalomaniacally.
This image of the short-sighted aquarium dweller is not, perhaps, the first example that comes to mind when one thinks of Proust’s imagery, but it seems clear that this passage impressed Beckett considerably. He not only annotated it in his copy of Proust’s novel with the comment ‘Frequent image’,21 but employed his own variant of it in Dream, in conjunction with his own variants of the ‘tunnel’ and ‘light’ imagery in Marcel’s account of his despair after the flight of Albertine. In this account, Marcel equates his despair with the darkness of a tunnel, and depicts his occasional relief from this misery in terms of moments when ‘le noir tunnel sous lequel ma pensée rêvassait . . . s’interrompait brusquement d’un intervalle de soleil’, affording ‘la fraîcheur rajeunissante d’une exfoliation’ (111.534). Belacqua’s ideal of ‘hush and gloom’ completely reverses the connotations of Proust’s imagery. This ideal is most perfectly realized in the refuge of ‘the umbra, the tunnel, when the mind went wombtomb’, and where ‘the glare of understanding’ is well and truly ‘switched off’ (p. 39). Far from welcoming the kind of sunny interval that Marcel finds so refreshing in his tunnel, Belacqua contentedly reflects that such ‘punctuation from the alien shaft was infrequent and then, thanks to his ramparts, mild’ (p. 40).
These ‘ramparts’ are ‘a string of earthworks’ that Belacqua builds ‘to break . . . the ebb of him to people and things’ (p. 38), and this construction becomes particularly interesting when it is compared with the glass walls of Charlus’s ‘aquarium’. For if Marcel condemns Charlus for his idiosynchronic, and ultimately lazy perceptual categories, the narrator of Dream has every sympathy for Belacqua’s perceptual indolence. Employing a ‘crab’ variant of Marcel’s ‘fish’ image, the narrator emphasizes the intolerable quality of the infrequent moments of consciousness punctuating the peace of Belacqua’s tunnel, relating:
they used to drive him crazy, the way a crab would be that was hauled out of its dim pool into the pestiferous sunlight, yanked forth from its lair . . . and set to fry in the sun. (p. 40)
Elaborations of this image of ‘pestiferous sunlight’, or what the narrator subsequently terms ‘pestilential consciousness’ (p. 149), abound in Dream, and in Beckett’s later writing, where, to cite but two examples, Winnie complains of ‘hellish light’ in Happy days, while the speaker of Texts for nothing resents ‘gonorrhoeal light’22
The helpless victim of interruptions from the outer world which keep ‘hauling him high and dry out of his comfortable trough’ (p. 4), Belacqua employs yet another hugely pregnant image when contrasting ‘the blessedly sunless depths’, and ‘the slush of angels’, with moments of consciousness when ‘furious divers . . . hauled him out like a crab to fry in the sun’ (p. 108). This image of ‘divers’ who ‘haul out’ is surely prefigured by the passage in Beckett’s Proust which discusses the ‘deep source’ from whence Proust ‘hoisted’ his world, and which identifies this ‘salvage’ process with the ‘diver’ of involuntary memory (Proust, p. 32). Significantly, while Beckett’s Proust uses these images in a positive context, Dream utterly reverses their early function. Accordingly, the mind illuminated by involuntary memory ceases to be the beatific ideal that it was for Proust, since its apparent advantages as an alternative to the ‘workaday glare’ of superficial macrocosmic reality is outweighed by its considerable disadvantage as the even more undesirable ‘intolerable brightness’ of the ‘inward glare’. Belacqua’s mind is best described by two remarkably similar phrases uttered by his friend Lucien, and by the later Beckettian hero Molloy; the first of these being Lucien’s evocation of existence as ‘le calme plat ponctué . . . de vertigineuses éjaculations . . . de clarté’ (p. 19); the second of these being Molloy’s description of his condition as ‘une torpeur miséricordieuse traversée de brefs et abominables éclairs’ (in Beckett’s English translation: ‘a deep and merciful torpor shot with abominable gleams’).23 Belacqua’s most obsessive problem is that having for some time enjoyed the state of ‘wombtomb’ in his ‘tunnel’, he discovers unwelcome gleams of consciousness, and never again enjoys uninterrupted gloom. In the narrator’s words: ‘He remembers the pleasant gracious bountiful tunnel, and cannot get back’ (p. 110).
These words require qualification. On one single occasion, towards the end of the novel, Belacqua rediscovers the pleasures of the tunnel, blessed with the ‘gift of blindness’ by a ‘whale of a miracle’ (p. 162). Far from affording a sense of plentitude, this ‘mystical experience’ leaves him ‘vacated . . . a void place and a spacious nothing’, and thereby open to ‘the apex of ecstasy . . . furnished by . . . the Dark Night of the Soul’ (p. 165). Nothing could be less like the ‘radiant . . . bright . . . luminous . . . mystical experience’ discussed by Beckett two years earlier (Proust, pp. 70, 71 and 75). As if to leave no doubt in the reader’s mind about the quality of Belacqua’s ‘apex of ecstasy’ (while simultaneously revealing his own identity), the narrator recounts:
a phrase he let fall on the way back to the city after a disastrous day on the course, a phrase that we propose now to the reader as a red-letter term in the statement of Belacqua and a notable arc of his circumscription. ‘Behold, Mr. Beckett’ he said, whitely, ‘a dud mystic’. (pp. 165-6)
A doubly ‘dud mystic’ insofar as his revelation is a ‘dud’ revelation (revealing nothing), and insofar as he is incapable of repeating this vision (and is therefore a ‘dud’ practitioner), Belacqua vainly entertains two paradoxical aspirations.
Firstly, he wishes to consciously contemplate his lack of consciousness, with ‘his mind a blank’, and ‘all the candles quenched but one’ (p. 76), just as the later hero, Moran, desires to be ‘incapable of motion . . . mute . . . deaf . . . blind . . . memory a blank! And just enough brain intact . . . to exult!24 Secondly, Belacqua wishes to attain this conscious unconsciousness by the equally contradictory process of willfully abolishing the will; an ambition that he recognizes as the ‘worse than stupid’ desire to ‘mechanise what was a dispensation’ (p. 110). Both of these projects fail.
Belacqua is unable to pay close attention to the pleasures of his ‘sunless depths’ because, by definition, ‘at the time he was not concerned with such niceties of perception’ (pp. 108-9). Marcel is equally incapable of defining the more positive ‘radiant essence’ of his mystical experience’ since it too is by definition ‘en partie . . . incommunicable’ (111.885); and since logical terms cannot contain the extra-logical. Rational man suffers from ‘L’impuissance de ‘lintelligence à voir au dehors autre chose que le reflet d’elle-m[eme’ (111.1115). In such circumstances it seems all the more significant that Proust should suggest that morally responsible decisions, and the action of ‘I’intelligence positive’- which he defines as ‘I’intelligence elle-meme qui . . . abdique par raisonnement’ (111.423) -may facilitate the adequate apprehension of extra-rational revelations.
A book could be written on the function of moral decisions and the function of the will in A la recherche du temps perdu. Suffice it to suggest that Beckett’s assumption that Proust’s characters are ‘active with a grotesque predetermined activity, within the narrow limits of an impure world’ (Proust, p. 89), takes no account of the Proustian virtues of ‘un combat et une victoire’ (1.864), of ‘l’éclat merveilleux de (‘innocence’ (11.160-61), and of ‘la bonté, le scrupule, le sacrifice’ (111.188) (to offer only the most caricatural indication of the ethical codes which at very least counteract forms of degeneracy preventing ideal self-realization in Proust’s novel). Beckett’s denial of the significance of either the will or the moral dimension in Proust’s world (and his suggestion that it is ‘impure’ and ‘predetermined’), seems symptomatic of an obstinate ‘unbelief’ in the potential of the will, and this resurfaces with a vengeance in Dream, in the context of ‘dud’ revelations. Regretting that will-less occasions cannot be ordered at will, the narrator reflects:
But the wretched Belacqua was not free and therefore . . . could not will and gain his enlargement from the gin-palace of willing . . . it was impossible to switch off the inward glare, willfully to suppress the bureaucratic mind. It was stupid to imagine that he could be organised as Limbo and wombtomb . . . How could the will be abolished in its own tension? (pp. 109-10)
Belacqua ‘leaves the rails’ (p. 110) precisely because he is ‘Convinced like a fool’ that it is possible ‘to induce at pleasure a state so desirable’ (p. 109). He has not yet learned the essential Beckettian dictum that there is ‘nothing to be done’, though the narrator certainly has, and freely admits: ‘we cannot do anything for him’ (p. 110).
Time after time, Beckett’s subsequent heroes are subjected to unpredictable and incomprehensible moments of torment and relief, over which they have no control. As they rapidly discover, there is quite literally nothing to be done. They can only wait for alternating intervals of intolerably bright consciousness and delectably gloomy unconsciousness to ‘come and go’, but can do nothing effective to prevent or provoke their respectively unwelcome and welcome arrival. Like Proust’s Tante Léonie, Beckett’s Belacqua is trapped within a purgatorial condition that Dante might admire (1.169), though unlike Tante Léonie, who represents an exception in a world in which - to cite Swann’s terms - most characters are ‘imparfait’, but ‘du moins perfectible’ (1.290), Belacqua is entirely typical of Beckett’s fictional world. Moreover, while Belacqua is unable to act effectively precisely because he inhabits an amoral world in which all action seems equally vain, Tante Léonie is unable to act because her dependence upon habit has degraded her to such an extent that she has lost the power to act in what is, in other circumstances, a perfectible world. Her condition is best explained in terms of ‘un être humain’ of whom Marcel comments:
C’est vraiment incroyable de penser qu’un être humain peut . . . se dégrader jusqu’ à une fange d’où il ne sera plus possible à la meilleure volonté du monde de jamais le relever. (1.286-7)
In such circumstances, Tante Léonie’s condition legitimizes the notion of ‘grotesque predetermined activity’ (Proust, p. 89) that Beckett, suffering from some kind of ethical blindspot, deemed applicable to all of Proust’s characters. Having abdicated from the ‘combat’ advocated by Elstir (1.864), Tante Léonie findsTinertie absolue’ (1.50) the ideal policy, just as Belacqua admires the credo of ‘savoir ne pas faire’ (p. 171).
At best, Tante Léonie indulges in various pastimes - or modes of ineffective action - in order to inhibit intense introspection. Constantly telling herself stories, and generating ‘un perpétuel monologue’ (1.50), Tante Léonie perhaps has more in common with Beckett’s later heroes than with Belacqua. Nevertheless, the invariable ‘traintrain’ (1.110) of her entire lifestyle shares the same meaningless symmetry as Belacqua’s ‘boomerangs of . . . fantasy’: comfortable (and therefore comforting) thoughts which he releases ‘unanxiously’, and which, meeting no contradiction, ‘return with the trophy of an echo’ (p. 38). Belacqua’s namesake in the later ‘Ding Dong’ entertains himself with physical variants of these mental divertissements in which ‘It is the shape that matters’,25 opting for ‘The simplest form of this exercise . . . boomerang, out and back’.26 Eventually, the heroes of Beckett’s Trilogy evolve the boomeranging hypotheses that Molloy terms ‘dutiful confusions’, or else devote themselves to the incalculable calculations that Dream derides as being ‘so infernally finical and nice . . . like working out how many pebbles in Tom Thumb’s pocket’ (p. 192).27
It might be argued that Belacqua and the narrator of Dream are the least ‘finical’, and thereby perhaps, the most ‘nice’ of Beckett’s narrators, heroes, and narrator-heroes. Neither of them share their later counterparts’ passion for manic mathematics, and neither of them experience the excruciating verbal crises that Watt and his followers undergo. Rather, they more often than not contemplate verbal failure or ambiguity with considerable good humour. Witnessing the Smeraldina-Rima’s ‘ropes and ropes of logorrhea streaming out in a gush’, the narrator does not raise his hands in ever-increasing despair, like the ‘auditor’ in Not I,28 but pronounces the spectacle ‘extremely amusing’ (pp. 12 and 11), and even when at a loss for words, he makes such jovial asides as: ‘spirit (getting tired of that word), and: ‘flying, there is no other word for it, about their business’ (pp. 37 and 206). Occasionally the narrator even applauds his own audacity, adding such triumphant chuckles as ‘tumultuous coenaesthesis (bravo!)’ (p. 28); an extremely far cry from the mature narrator-hero’s fear that ‘tout langage est un écart de langage’.29 Belacqua too, is not insensitive to verbal felicity, finding the phrase ‘Black diamond of pessimism’ to be ‘a nice example, in the domain of words, of the little sparkle hid in ashen’ (p. 42).
Both the narrator and Belacqua become most pessimistic about language when attempting to write novels, and Belacqua’s gravest doubts on this score prompt the prediction that:
The experience of my reader shall be between the phrases, in the silence, communicated by the intervals, not the terms, of the statement . . . his experience shall be the menace, the miracle, the memory, of an unspeakable trajectory. (p. 123)
Even this statement is compatible with a certain confidence in the act of writing. Writing as Andrew Belis, and discussing ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, Beckett observed that the poet aware of ‘the breakdown of the object’ may ‘state the space that intervenes between him and the world of objects’,30 thereby encouraging an art of ‘intervals’ (albeit half-heartedly). In the same year, another review of 1934 praised Proust as the creator of a ‘narrational trajectory . . . like the chart of an ague’, pouring scorn on the notion that the ideal novel should resemble ‘a respectable parabola’.31 Devoid of the bitter pessimism that Beckett previously associated with Proust when arguing that ‘There is no communication because there are no vehicles of communication’ (Proust, p. 64), the general tone of Dream is an almost Joycean enthusiasm for the rich potential of verbal alchemy, such as that of a Leipzig prostitute, whose exclamation ‘Himmisacrakruzidirkenjesusmariaundjosefundbldtigeskreuz!’ wins the narrator’s admiring rejoinder: ‘All in one word. The things people come out with sometimes!’
The conclusion to Dream, as is well known, parodies the final paragraph of Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, in a passage describing rain falling over Ireland (a passage which reappears in the final paragraphs of Beckett’s ‘A Wet Night’). Interrupted by the lines above about the Leipzig prostitute, and concluding with an irreverent joke about the ‘incontinent skies’ of Ireland, this passage finally refers to the ambiguity of distant clouds resembling distant hills. Proust would certainly have made much metaphorical mileage of this vision, indeed, as his early essay on ‘Les Nuages’, of 1886, reveals, he considered them a source of valuable inspiration:32
mais toujours les nuages nous font rêver . . . leur passage rapide plonge notre âme au plus profond des méditations philosophiques . . . O beaux nuages, merci de toutes les consolations que vous avez donnés aux malheureux. Car votre approche les a remplis de cette mélancolie rêveuse, de cette tristesse poétique qui seule peut adoucir les douleurs qu’on ne peut pas calmer.
Rejecting such food for metaphysical and metaphorical thought, Belacqua deflates the poetic potential of this prospect with the bluntly prosaic coda: `Don’t cod yourselves. Those are clouds that you see, or your own nostalgia’; a statement savaging the delicacy of observation in his preceding meditations upon the ‘charm’ of Ireland’s rain, the ‘veil of tears’ through which its landscapes appear, and the ‘impression one enjoys before . . . the mitigation of contour’ (p. 213). Having parodied Proust’s values, and having ridiculed one of Joyce’s most sublime paragraphs, Beckett seems to have turned his satirical talents upon his own sensibility. Slight as this gesture might appear, it valuably exemplifies the Beckettian hero’s tendency to belittle or else simply suppress all mention of his most private and intense experiences. Yet at the same time, Beckett’s characters (and, one presumes, Beckett), seem haunted by these unnamable experiences. For example, some fifty years after Dream, Beckett’s Company related once again the same bewildering sensation evoked above, adding the suggestion that its expression had somehow been a cause of humiliation. The narrator of Company recollects:33
A nook in the gorse. East beyond the sea the faint shape of high mountain. Seventy miles away according to your Longman. For the third or fourth time in your life. The first time you told them and were derided. All you had seen was cloud. So now you hoard it in your heart with the rest.
Written in a controlled, almost telegrammatic prose, and liberated from the task of explicitly rejecting the ideas and the influence of Proust and Joyce, this fragment from Beckett’s mature work gives the impression of being more calmly and more openly confessional than any of Dream’s frantic sketches of the writer as a young man. Yet on inspection, Company proves just as much a work about the evasion of identity as Dream is. Company’s narrator only skirts very personal memories, such as his derided description of `high mountain’, reserving most of his energy for the invention of painlessly neutral topics - or companies - in response
to his ‘craving for company . . . in which to escape from his own’.34 ’Identical concerns inform Beckett’s first play Eleuthéria, of 1947, in which the hero, Victor Krap, explains:35
D’abord j’étais prisonnier des autres. Alors je les
ai quittés. Puis j’etais prisonnier du moi. C’était pire. Alors je me suis
identical concerns inform almost every other work by Beckett. If Dream of fair to middling women is
fundamental to an understanding of Beckett’s vision, it is because, as a
predominantly anti-Proustian novel, it continually illustrates its
obsession with the evasion of self-knowledge by subverting key
incidents and key images in the epic search for self-knowledge that is
Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. Moreover, by both elaborating
the anti-Proustian misunderstandings of Beckett’s Proust, and by
rejecting the implications of this volume’s accurate accounts of Proustian
theory in order to introduce Beckettian countertheory, Dream of fair to middling women demonstrates once and for all the
inaccuracy of the critical myth that maintains that Beckett and Proust share
the same conclusions, and that Beckett’s Proust charts their common ‘law’. Beckett
and Proust may share the same prédicats de base, insofar as they examine
the same verbal and perceptual problems, and on rare occasions their opinions may
coincide, but the substance of their conclusions is as divergent as chalk and
cheese. The fascination of any comparative study of their work resides
precisely in this difference: to ignore it, or to confuse their point of
departure with their points of arrival, is to obscure the achievement of two of
this century’s most remarkable writers. 1 The original typescript of Dream
of fair to middling women, a 214 page novel, is located in Baker Library,
Dartmouth College. A photocopy is located in the Beckett Collection of the
University of Reading Library (MS 1227/7/16/8). All subsequent references to
this novel employ the abbreviation Dream. 2 John Fletcher, The
novels of Samuel Beckett, London, Chatto and Windus, 1964, p. 36; Lawrence
Harvey, Samuel Beckett: poet and critic, Princeton, N.J., Princeton
Univ. Press, 1970, p. 320. 3 John Spurling, in John
Fletcher and John Spurling, Beckett: a study of his plays, London, Eyre
Methuen, 1972, p. 28. 4 All references to Marcel
Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu refer to the three volume edition
edited by Pierre Clarac and André Ferré (Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la
Pléiade, 1954), henceforth cited as I, II, and III. Beckett’s annotated copies
of A la recherche du temps perdu (1917-27; rpt. Paris: Gallimard,
Edit.’ons de la Nouvelle Revue FranQaise, (1925-29), are located in the
Beckett Collection of the University of Reading Library. Beckett’s comment
‘Balls’ appears in Le Temps retrouvé, 36th ed. (1927, rpt. Paris:
Gallimard, Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Française, 1929), p. 240 (111.1033). 5 See Deirdre Bair, Samuel
Beckett: a biography, London, Jonathan Cape, 1978, p. 145. 6 John Pilling, ‘Beckett’s Proust’,
Journal of Beckett Studies, No. 1, Winter 1976, pp. 8-29, p. 14.
Referring to Beckett’s annotations to A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs,
II, 119th ed. (1917; rpt. Paris: Gallimard, Editions de la Nouvelle Revue
Francaise, 1929), p. 165 (1.720), and to Sodome et Gomorrhe, II, iii,
71st ed. (1922; rpt. Gallimard, Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Française, 1927),
p. 52 (11.994), Pilling remarks that ‘Beckett remains sufficiently wide-awake
to catch Proust repeating a whole sentence verbatim’. 7 Tzvetan Todorov, Litt6rature
et signification, Paris, Larousse, Langue et Langage, 1967, pp. 58-61. 8
Beckett: poet and critic, p. 340. 9 See 111.256-8 and
111.885. 10 That time, London,
Faber and Faber, 1976); ‘something there’, New departures, No. 7-8
and 10-11, 1975, p. 27; and University of Reading Beckett Collection MS
1227/7/12/1, p. 6 (dated 20.3.72, this early typescript of Not I notes:
‘Example of "rare occasion" ’). 11 Littérature et
signification, p. 87. 12
‘amoral’ reading of Marcel’s vocation neglects the ethical emphasis that Marcel
places upon ‘feffort qu’il faut pour approfondir en soi-même . . . une
impression agréable que nous avons eu’ (1.658). The discovery of such
impressions may be independent of ethical considerations, but their artistic approfondissement,
like the interpretation of works of art requires ‘l’effort nécessaire pour dégager
la vérité’ (111.373). Proust’s ethically negative characters refuse to make
this effort: thus Charlus has ‘abandonné tout jeune la musique’ (11.1009). 13 My italics. 14 Molloy, Malone Dies, The
Unnamable, London, Calder and Boyars, 1959, p.395. 15 My italics. 16 My italics. 17 My italics. 18 ‘Assumption’, transition,
No. 16-17, June 1929, pp. 268-71, p. 269. My italics. 19 Ibid. My italics. 20 Murphy, (1938; rpt.
London, Calder and Boyars, 1970), p. 125. Murphy considers the raising of
Lazarus ‘the one occasion on which the Messiah may have overstepped the mark’. 21 Beckett adds this comment
to Sodome et Gomorrhe, II, iii (1922; rpt. Paris: Gallimard, Editions de
la Nouvelle Revue Franpaise, 1927), p. 126 (11.1049). 22 Happy days (1963; rpt.
London, Faber and Faber, 1970), p. 11; Texts for nothing (1967; rpt. London,
Calder and Boyars, 1974), p. 57. 23 Molloy, Paris, Les Editions
de Minuit, 1951, p. 81; Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, p. 54. 24 Molly, Malone Dies, The
Unnamable, pp. 140-1. 25 Beckett, quoted by Martin
Esslin in ‘Introduction’, in Samuel Beckett: a collection of critical essays,
ed. Martin Esslin, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 1-15,
p. 4. 26 ‘Ding Dong’, in More
pricks Than kicks, 1934; rpt. London, Calder and Boyars, 1970, pp. 39-49,
p. 40. 27 Molloy, Malone Dies, The
Unnamable, p. 15. The obvious example of such infernally finical’
calculations are Molloy’s celebrated sucking stone calculations app. 69-74). 28 Not I, London, Faber
and Faber, 1973, p. 16. 29 Molloy, p. 179. 30 Andrew Belis (Beckett’s nom
de plume), ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, Bookman, 86, August 1934), pp. 235-6,
p. 235. 31 ‘Proust in Pieces’, The
Spectator, 22 June 1934, pp. 975-6, p. 976. (Review of Albert
Feuillerat’s Comment Proust a composé son roman.) 32 ‘Les Nuages’, in Contre
Sainte-Beuve precede de Pastiches et melanges et suivi de Essais et
articles, ed. Pierre Clarac and Yves Sandre (Paris, Gallimard, Bibliotheque de
la Pleiade, 1971), pp. 327-29, pp. 328-29. 33 Company, London, John
Calder, 1980, p. 33. 34 Ibid., p. 77. My
italics. 35 Carbon copy of the
typescript of Beckett’s Eleuthéria, p. 115. (Consulted in the archive of
Les Editions de Minuit, Paris.)
j’etais prisonnier du moi. C’était pire. Alors je me suis quitté.
And identical concerns inform almost every other work by Beckett.
If Dream of fair to middling women is fundamental to an understanding of Beckett’s vision, it is because, as a predominantly anti-Proustian novel, it continually illustrates its obsession with the evasion of self-knowledge by subverting key incidents and key images in the epic search for self-knowledge that is Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu. Moreover, by both elaborating the anti-Proustian misunderstandings of Beckett’s Proust, and by rejecting the implications of this volume’s accurate accounts of Proustian theory in order to introduce Beckettian countertheory, Dream of fair to middling women demonstrates once and for all the inaccuracy of the critical myth that maintains that Beckett and Proust share the same conclusions, and that Beckett’s Proust charts their common ‘law’.
Beckett and Proust may share the same prédicats de base, insofar as they examine the same verbal and perceptual problems, and on rare occasions their opinions may coincide, but the substance of their conclusions is as divergent as chalk and cheese. The fascination of any comparative study of their work resides precisely in this difference: to ignore it, or to confuse their point of departure with their points of arrival, is to obscure the achievement of two of this century’s most remarkable writers.
1 The original typescript of Dream of fair to middling women, a 214 page novel, is located in Baker Library, Dartmouth College. A photocopy is located in the Beckett Collection of the University of Reading Library (MS 1227/7/16/8). All subsequent references to this novel employ the abbreviation Dream.
2 John Fletcher, The novels of Samuel Beckett, London, Chatto and Windus, 1964, p. 36; Lawrence Harvey, Samuel Beckett: poet and critic, Princeton, N.J., Princeton Univ. Press, 1970, p. 320.
3 John Spurling, in John Fletcher and John Spurling, Beckett: a study of his plays, London, Eyre Methuen, 1972, p. 28.
4 All references to Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu refer to the three volume edition edited by Pierre Clarac and André Ferré (Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1954), henceforth cited as I, II, and III. Beckett’s annotated copies of A la recherche du temps perdu (1917-27; rpt. Paris: Gallimard, Edit.’ons de la Nouvelle Revue FranQaise, (1925-29), are located in the Beckett Collection of the University of Reading Library. Beckett’s comment ‘Balls’ appears in Le Temps retrouvé, 36th ed. (1927, rpt. Paris: Gallimard, Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Française, 1929), p. 240 (111.1033).
5 See Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett: a biography, London, Jonathan Cape, 1978, p. 145.
6 John Pilling, ‘Beckett’s Proust’, Journal of Beckett Studies, No. 1, Winter 1976, pp. 8-29, p. 14. Referring to Beckett’s annotations to A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, II, 119th ed. (1917; rpt. Paris: Gallimard, Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1929), p. 165 (1.720), and to Sodome et Gomorrhe, II, iii, 71st ed. (1922; rpt. Gallimard, Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Française, 1927), p. 52 (11.994), Pilling remarks that ‘Beckett remains sufficiently wide-awake to catch Proust repeating a whole sentence verbatim’.
7 Tzvetan Todorov, Litt6rature et signification, Paris, Larousse, Langue et Langage, 1967, pp. 58-61.
8 Samuel Beckett: poet and critic, p. 340.
9 See 111.256-8 and 111.885.
10 That time, London, Faber and Faber, 1976); ‘something there’, New departures, No. 7-8 and 10-11, 1975, p. 27; and University of Reading Beckett Collection MS 1227/7/12/1, p. 6 (dated 20.3.72, this early typescript of Not I notes: ‘Example of "rare occasion" ’).
11 Littérature et signification, p. 87.
12 Beckett’s ‘amoral’ reading of Marcel’s vocation neglects the ethical emphasis that Marcel places upon ‘feffort qu’il faut pour approfondir en soi-même . . . une impression agréable que nous avons eu’ (1.658). The discovery of such impressions may be independent of ethical considerations, but their artistic approfondissement, like the interpretation of works of art requires ‘l’effort nécessaire pour dégager la vérité’ (111.373). Proust’s ethically negative characters refuse to make this effort: thus Charlus has ‘abandonné tout jeune la musique’ (11.1009).
13 My italics.
14 Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, London, Calder and Boyars, 1959, p.395.
15 My italics.
16 My italics.
17 My italics.
18 ‘Assumption’, transition, No. 16-17, June 1929, pp. 268-71, p. 269. My italics.
19 Ibid. My italics.
20 Murphy, (1938; rpt. London, Calder and Boyars, 1970), p. 125. Murphy considers the raising of Lazarus ‘the one occasion on which the Messiah may have overstepped the mark’.
21 Beckett adds this comment to Sodome et Gomorrhe, II, iii (1922; rpt. Paris: Gallimard, Editions de la Nouvelle Revue Franpaise, 1927), p. 126 (11.1049).
22 Happy days (1963; rpt. London, Faber and Faber, 1970), p. 11; Texts for nothing (1967; rpt. London, Calder and Boyars, 1974), p. 57.
23 Molloy, Paris, Les Editions de Minuit, 1951, p. 81; Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, p. 54.
24 Molly, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, pp. 140-1.
25 Beckett, quoted by Martin Esslin in ‘Introduction’, in Samuel Beckett: a collection of critical essays, ed. Martin Esslin, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1965, pp. 1-15, p. 4.
26 ‘Ding Dong’, in More pricks Than kicks, 1934; rpt. London, Calder and Boyars, 1970, pp. 39-49, p. 40.
27 Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, p. 15. The obvious example of such infernally finical’ calculations are Molloy’s celebrated sucking stone calculations app. 69-74).
28 Not I, London, Faber and Faber, 1973, p. 16.
29 Molloy, p. 179.
30 Andrew Belis (Beckett’s nom de plume), ‘Recent Irish Poetry’, Bookman, 86, August 1934), pp. 235-6, p. 235.
31 ‘Proust in Pieces’, The Spectator, 22 June 1934, pp. 975-6, p. 976. (Review of Albert Feuillerat’s Comment Proust a composé son roman.)
32 ‘Les Nuages’, in Contre Sainte-Beuve precede de Pastiches et melanges et suivi de Essais et articles, ed. Pierre Clarac and Yves Sandre (Paris, Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, 1971), pp. 327-29, pp. 328-29.
33 Company, London, John Calder, 1980, p. 33.
34 Ibid., p. 77. My italics.
35 Carbon copy of the typescript of Beckett’s Eleuthéria, p. 115. (Consulted in the archive of Les Editions de Minuit, Paris.)