The World of Samuel Beckett, 1906-1946


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Lois Gordon

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Samuel Beckett, whose play Waiting for Godot was one of the most influential works for the post-World War II generation, has long been identified with the debilitated and impotent characters he created. In this provocative book, Lois Gordon offers a new perspective on Beckett, challenging the prevalent image of him as reclusive, self-absorbed, and disturbed. Gordon investigates the first forty years of Beckett's life and finds that he was, on the contrary, a kind and generous man who responded sensitively and even heroically to the world around him.
Gordon describes the various places and events that affected Beckett during this formative period: war-torn Dublin during the Easter Uprising and World War I, where he spent his childhood and student days; Belfast and Paris in the 1920s and London during the Depression, where he lived and worked; Germany in 1937, where he traveled and witnessed Hitler's brutal domestic policies; prewar and occupied France, where he was active in the Resistance (for which he was later decorated); and the war-ravaged town of Saint-Lô in Normandy, which he helped to restore following the liberation. Gordon also portrays the individuals who were important to Beckett, including Jack B. Yeats, Alfred Péron, Thomas McGreevy, and, most significantly, James Joyce, who was a model for Beckett personally, artistically, and politically. Gordon argues convincingly that Beckett was very much aware of the political and cultural turmoil of this period and that the enormously creative works he wrote after World War II can, in fact, be viewed as a product of and testament to those tumultuous times.

Lois Gordon is professor of English and comparative literature at Fairleigh Dickinson University and co-author of American Chronicle, now in its third, expanded edition.

A selection of Readers’ Subscription

"This book is not, strictly speaking, a biography of Beckett, but it draws a forceful, enormously informative, and compelling portrait of him."—Robert Scanlan, Harvard University

"Through a rich biographical and historical reconstruction, Lois Gordon illuminates Beckett's formative years, the years before the great work, that we may see him as fully responsive to the harsh realities of his time. This is a work generously conceived to undo the myth of a dour and distant Beckett and replace it with the full dimension of the man."—Maureen Howard

"Gordon places Beckett's life firmly in its historical context, both artistic and political. What she unearths about Beckett's involvement in the French Resistance and with the Red Cross at Saint-Lô in 1945 is particularly persuasive and illuminating—and finally very moving."—Harold Pinter

"Gordon significantly extends the scholarship about her subject. . . . An exemplary glimpse of a literary enigma."—Kirkus Reviews

"Serves as a sober corrective to many of Deirdre Bair's more speculative theses."—Publishers Weekly

"No one reading [this] invigorating [study] will continue to perceive Beckett as a cold formalist absorbed in abstractions; and in the light of all this unsuspected knowledge, we can now take a fresh look at the work of one of the most deep-thinking, and deep-feeling, writers of any age."—John Taylor, Times Literary Supplement

"With a clear, unpretentious writing style, Gordon manages to integrate the compelling 'story' of Beckett's youth with detailed references to the major political, social, and literary events that shaped his world view. . . . For any evaluation of Beckett's temperament and achievement, The World of Samuel Beckett provides invaluable information and balance. It covers his formative years and focuses on his life rather than on extensive critical analyses of his major works. . . . Gordon has provided a 'missing link' in the saga of one of the West's greatest writers."—Kimball King, Modern Drama

"[An] illuminating, and immensely warm study."—New York Review of Books

"Gordon highlights Beckett's involvement with the French Resistance; concentrates on Beckett the man as opposed to 'Beckett' as a literary phenomenon; and counters the argument that Beckett was a 'fragile and reclusive man set apart from the real world.' Instead, she underscores his deep friendships (especially with Joyce) and provides a swift and involving tale of the author's first 40 years."—American Theatre

ISBN: 9780300074956
Publication Date: March 30, 1998
264 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
18 b/w illus.
American Chronicle

Year by Year Through the Twentieth Century

Lois Gordon and Alan Gordon; Introduction by Roger Rosenbla

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