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The s were a time of change for Beckett, both on a personal level and as a writer. In , he married Suzanne in a secret civil ceremony in England its secrecy due to reasons relating to French inheritance law. The success of his plays led to invitations to attend rehearsals and productions around the world, leading eventually to a new career as a theatre director. He continued writing sporadically for radio and extended his scope to include cinema and television. He began to write in English again, although he also wrote in French until the end of his life. From the late s until his death, Beckett had a relationship with Barbara Bray , a widow who worked as a script editor for the BBC.
Knowlson wrote of them: "She was small and attractive, but, above all, keenly intelligent and well-read. Beckett seems to have been immediately attracted by her and she to him. Their encounter was highly significant for them both, for it represented the beginning of a relationship that was to last, in parallel with that with Suzanne, for the rest of his life. Anticipating that her intensely private husband would be saddled with fame from that moment on, Suzanne called the award a "catastrophe".
Jacques in Paris near his Montparnasse home. Suzanne died on 17 July Confined to a nursing home and suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson's disease , Beckett died on 22 December.
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Beckett's career as a writer can be roughly divided into three periods: his early works, up until the end of World War II in ; his middle period, stretching from until the early s, during which he wrote what are probably his best-known works; and his late period, from the early s until Beckett's death in , during which his works tended to become shorter and his style more minimalist. Beckett's earliest works are generally considered to have been strongly influenced by the work of his friend James Joyce.
They are erudite and seem to display the author's learning merely for its own sake, resulting in several obscure passages. The opening phrases of the short-story collection More Pricks than Kicks affords a representative sample of this style:. It was morning and Belacqua was stuck in the first of the canti in the moon. He was so bogged that he could move neither backward nor forward. Blissful Beatrice was there, Dante also, and she explained the spots on the moon to him. She shewed him in the first place where he was at fault, then she put up her own explanation.
She had it from God, therefore he could rely on its being accurate in every particular. The passage makes reference to Dante 's Commedia , which can serve to confuse readers not familiar with that work. It also anticipates aspects of Beckett's later work: the physical inactivity of the character Belacqua; the character's immersion in his own head and thoughts; the somewhat irreverent comedy of the final sentence. Similar elements are present in Beckett's first published novel, Murphy , which also explores the themes of insanity and chess both of which would be recurrent elements in Beckett's later works.
The novel's opening sentence hints at the somewhat pessimistic undertones and black humour that animate many of Beckett's works: "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new". It explores human movement as if it were a mathematical permutation , presaging Beckett's later preoccupation—in both his novels and dramatic works—with precise movement.
Beckett's essay Proust was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer 's pessimism and laudatory descriptions of saintly asceticism. At this time Beckett began to write creatively in the French language.
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In the late s, he wrote a number of short poems in that language and their sparseness—in contrast to the density of his English poems of roughly the same period, collected in Echo's Bones and Other Precipitates —seems to show that Beckett, albeit through the medium of another language, was in process of simplifying his style, a change also evidenced in Watt.
From Watt . It was this, together with the "revelation" experienced in his mother's room in Dublin—in which he realised that his art must be subjective and drawn wholly from his own inner world—that would result in the works for which Beckett is best remembered today. During the 15 years following the war, Beckett produced four major full-length stage plays: En attendant Godot written —; Waiting for Godot , Fin de partie —; Endgame , Krapp's Last Tape , and Happy Days These plays—which are often considered, rightly or wrongly, to have been instrumental in the so-called " Theatre of the Absurd "—deal in a darkly humorous way with themes similar to those of the roughly contemporary existentialist thinkers.
The term "Theatre of the Absurd" was coined by Martin Esslin in a book of the same name; Beckett and Godot were centrepieces of the book. Esslin argued these plays were the fulfilment of Albert Camus 's concept of "the absurd";  this is one reason Beckett is often falsely labelled as an existentialist this is based on the assumption that Camus was an existentialist, though he in fact broke off from the existentialist movement and founded his own philosophy.
Though many of the themes are similar, Beckett had little affinity for existentialism as a whole. Broadly speaking, the plays deal with the subject of despair and the will to survive in spite of that despair, in the face of an uncomprehending and incomprehensible world. The words of Nell—one of the two characters in Endgame who are trapped in ashbins, from which they occasionally peek their heads to speak—can best summarise the themes of the plays of Beckett's middle period: "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that.
Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it's always the same thing. Yes, it's like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh any more. Beckett's outstanding achievements in prose during the period were the three novels Molloy , Malone meurt ; Malone Dies and L'innommable The Unnamable. In these novels—sometimes referred to as a "trilogy", though this is against the author's own explicit wishes—the prose becomes increasingly bare and stripped down.
In Malone Dies , movement and plot are largely dispensed with, though there is still some indication of place and the passage of time; the "action" of the book takes the form of an interior monologue. Finally, in The Unnamable , almost all sense of place and time are abolished, and the essential theme seems to be the conflict between the voice's drive to continue speaking so as to continue existing, and its almost equally strong urge towards silence and oblivion. Despite the widely held view that Beckett's work, as exemplified by the novels of this period, is essentially pessimistic, the will to live seems to win out in the end; witness, for instance, the famous final phrase of The Unnamable : 'I can't go on, I'll go on'.
After these three novels, Beckett struggled for many years to produce a sustained work of prose, a struggle evidenced by the brief "stories" later collected as Texts for Nothing. In the late s, however, he created one of his most radical prose works, Comment c'est ; How It Is. An early variant version of Comment c'est , L'Image , was published in the British arts review, X: A Quarterly Review , and is the first appearance of the novel in any form.
This work relates the adventures of an unnamed narrator crawling through the mud while dragging a sack of canned food. It was written as a sequence of unpunctuated paragraphs in a style approaching telegraphese : "You are there somewhere alive somewhere vast stretch of time then it's over you are there no more alive no more than again you are there again alive again it wasn't over an error you begin again all over more or less in the same place or in another as when another image above in the light you come to in hospital in the dark"  Following this work, it was almost another decade before Beckett produced a work of non-dramatic prose.
How It Is is generally considered to mark the end of his middle period as a writer. Throughout the s and into the s, Beckett's works exhibited an increasing tendency—already evident in much of his work of the s—towards compactness. This has led to his work sometimes being described as minimalist. The extreme example of this, among his dramatic works, is the piece Breath , which lasts for only 35 seconds and has no characters though it was likely intended to offer ironic comment on Oh!
In his theatre of the late period, Beckett's characters—already few in number in the earlier plays—are whittled down to essential elements.
The ironically titled Play , for instance, consists of three characters immersed up to their necks in large funeral urns. The television drama Eh Joe , which was written for the actor Jack MacGowran , is animated by a camera that steadily closes in to a tight focus upon the face of the title character.
The play Not I consists almost solely of, in Beckett's words, "a moving mouth with the rest of the stage in darkness". They also deal with the theme of the self-confined and observed, with a voice that either comes from outside into the protagonist's head as in Eh Joe or else another character comments on the protagonist silently, by means of gesture as in Not I.
After a long period of inactivity, Beckett's poetry experienced a revival during this period in the ultra-terse French poems of mirlitonnades , with some as short as six words long.
These defied Beckett's usual scrupulous concern to translate his work from its original into the other of his two languages; several writers, including Derek Mahon , have attempted translations, but no complete version of the sequence has been published in English. Beckett's prose pieces during the late period were not so prolific as his theatre, as suggested by the title of the collection of short prose texts Fizzles which the American artist Jasper Johns illustrated. Beckett experienced something of a renaissance with the novella Company , which continued with Ill Seen Ill Said and Worstward Ho , later collected in Nohow On.
In these three "'closed space' stories,"  Beckett continued his pre-occupation with memory and its effect on the confined and observed self, as well as with the positioning of bodies in space, as the opening phrases of Company make clear: "A voice comes to one in the dark. This he can tell by the pressure on his hind parts and by how the dark changes when he shuts his eyes and again when he opens them again. Only a small part of what is said can be verified. As for example when he hears, You are on your back in the dark.
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Then he must acknowledge the truth of what is said. In the hospital and nursing home where he spent his final days, Beckett wrote his last work, the poem "What is the Word" "Comment dire". The poem grapples with an inability to find words to express oneself, a theme echoing Beckett's earlier work, though possibly amplified by the sickness he experienced late in life.
Jack MacGowran was the first actor to do a one-man show based on the works of Beckett. She first met Beckett in In her autobiography Billie Whitelaw Beckett went on to write many of his experimental theatre works for her. She came to be regarded as his muse, the "supreme interpreter of his work", perhaps most famous for her role as the mouth in Not I. She said of the play Rockaby : "I put the tape in my head. And I sort of look in a particular way, but not at the audience.
Sometimes as a director Beckett comes out with absolute gems and I use them a lot in other areas. We were doing Happy Days and I just did not know where in the theatre to look during this particular section. And I asked, and he thought for a bit and then said, 'Inward' ".
The English stage designer Jocelyn Herbert was a close friend and influence on Beckett until his death. Beckett said that Herbert became his closest friend in England: "She has a great feeling for the work and is very sensitive and doesn't want to bang the nail on the head. Generally speaking, there is a tendency on the part of designers to overstate, and this has never been the case with Jocelyn. The German director Walter D. Asmus began his working relationship with Beckett in the Schiller Theatre in Berlin in and continued until , the year of the playwright's death.
Of all the English-language modernists , Beckett's work represents the most sustained attack on the realist tradition. He opened up the possibility of theatre and fiction that dispense with conventional plot and the unities of time and place in order to focus on essential components of the human condition.
He has had a wider influence on experimental writing since the s, from the Beat generation to the happenings of the s and after. His work has also influenced numerous international writers, artists and filmmakers including Edward Albee , Avigdor Arikha , Paul Auster , J. Beckett is one of the most widely discussed and highly prized of 20th-century authors, inspiring a critical industry to rival that which has sprung up around James Joyce. He has divided critical opinion.
Since Beckett's death, all rights for performance of his plays are handled by the Beckett estate, currently managed by Edward Beckett the author's nephew.