On this day…13 April

On 13 April 1906 Samuel Beckett was born.

Beckett was born in the family home at Cooldrinagh, Foxrock. That it was Good Friday, and Friday the thirteenth, and that the birth was a difficult one, was all taken by Beckett to indicate that birth was connected with pain, suffering, and death. Beckett gives a long account of the events surrounding his birth in one of his most autobiographical pieces, Company, which he started writing in January 1977.

Beckett was introduced to Joyce by Thomas MacGreevy shortly after he arrived in Paris at the end of 1928, and he and Joyce became good friends. At the time, Joyce was still working on his Work in Progress, and Beckett sometimes helped by taking dictation and reading to Joyce. Beckett contributed the essay ‘Dante… Bruno. Vico.. Joyce’ to the collection Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress, published by Shakespeare and Company in May 1929.

In June 1929 Beckett was among those who attended the Déjeuner Ulysse, organised by Adrienne Monnier and Sylvia Beach to celebrate Bloomsday and the publication of the French translation of Ulysses. On the way back to Paris, Beckett made the driver stop the bus several times so he could go drinking in wayside bars, and eventually the bus left him behind.

With his friend Alfred Péron, Beckett started translating Joyce’s Anna Livia Plurabelle into French, but completed only part of it before he had to leave for Ireland. He was a frequent visitor at the Joyces’ apartment and often took Lucia Joyce out for meals or to the theatre. By May 1930, Lucia had begun to display a particular interest in him, and Beckett felt obliged to tell her that he came mainly to see her father not her. Nora claimed that Beckett had been leading Lucia on, and Joyce told Beckett that he was not welcome at the apartment any longer. The rift between them lasted a year.

In January 1938, Beckett was stabbed on the street and taken to a nearby hospital. Joyce, as soon as he heard the news, organised for Beckett to be transferred to a private room and to get the best available treatment at his expense. On 2 February that year, Beckett was among those who joined Joyce at his apartment to listen to a programme broadcast by Radio Éireann on the occasion of Joyce’s birthday.

When Beckett and his partner Suzanne arrived in Vichy without any money in June 1940, Joyce gave them a letter of introduction to Valery Larbaud, who lived nearby. Thanks to Joyce’s letter, Larbaud gave them a loan of 20,000 francs which enabled them to rent a house at Arcachon.

In later life Beckett claimed that he hadn’t intended to be a writer when he first met Joyce. He claimed to have great admiration for what Joyce had achieved, but he also knew that he couldn’t follow the same path as Joyce. He felt that Joyce’s technique lay in always adding more and more, while his own lay in always taking away.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Knowlson, James: Damned to Fame – The Life of Samuel Beckett, London: Bloomsbury, 1996.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.