In 1928, Samuel Beckett moved to Paris where he met and became a devoted student of James Joyce. In 1931, he travelled through Britain, France and Germany writing poems and stories and did odd jobs to support himself. On his journey, he came across many individuals who would inspire some of his most interesting characters.
During World War II, Samuel Beckett’s Irish citizenship allowed him to remain in Paris as a citizen of a neutral country. He fought in the resistance movement until 1942, when he and Suzanne fled to the unoccupied zone until the end of the war to avoid arrest by the Gestapo.
After the war, he re-settled in Paris and began his most prolific period as a writer. In five years, he wrote three plays, four novels, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.
Samuel Beckett’s first publication, Molloy, enjoyed modest sales, but more importantly praise from French critics. Soon, Waiting for Godot, written in 1948-1949 in French, achieved quick success at the small Theatre de Babylone putting Beckett in the international spotlight. The play premiered in 1953, ran for 400 performances, and enjoyed critical praise.
Beckett’s works are filled with allusions to other writers such as Dante, Rene Descartes, and James Joyce. Beckett’s plays are not written along traditional lines with conventional plot and time and place references. Instead, he focuses on essential elements of the human condition in dark humorous ways. This style of writing has been called “Theater of the Absurd” by Martin Esslin, referring to poet Albert Camus’ concept of “the absurd.” The plays focus on human despair and the will to survive in a hopeless world that offers no help in understanding.
The 1960s were a period of change for Samuel Beckett. He found great success with this plays across the world. Invitations came to attend rehearsals and performances which led to a career as a theater director. In 1961, he secretly married Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnuil who took care of his business affairs. A commission from the BBC in 1956 led to offers to write for radio and cinema through the 1960s.
Samuel Beckett continued to write throughout the 1970s and 80s mostly in a small house outside Paris. There he could give total dedication to his art evading publicity. In 1969, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, though he declined accepting it personally to avoid making a speech at the ceremonies. However, he should not be considered a recluse. He often times met with other artists, scholars and admirers to talk about his work.
By the late 1980s, Samuel Beckett was in failing health and had moved to a small nursing home. Suzanne, his wife, had died in July 1989. His life was confined to a small room where he would receive visitors and write. He died on December 22, 1989, in a hospital of respiratory problems just months after his wife.
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