2. Main Part
2.1 Beckett´s life between 1920 and 1940
2.2 Psycho-Analytical Aspects
2.3 Beckett and Joyce
2.4 “A Painful Case” (1914)
2.5 “One Case in a Thousand” (1934)
3. Summary and Conclusion
“I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.”1
These words by Samuel Beckett (1906 – 1989), a remarkable literary talent of the past century, illustrate quite well the connection between Beckett and his stories. Quite often the writer used parts from his own life as models for his novels, poems and short stories. In the scope of this paper this will be exemplified on a relatively unknown short story written by him in 1934, One Case in a Thousand. At the same time, I would like to show another influence on Beckett´s work besides his biography. Therefore, the relationship between the two Irish writers Samuel Beckett and James Joyce will also be a central part of this work. This influence will be examined by a comparison of the above mentioned short story written by Beckett and another one written by Joyce, namely A Painful Case (1914).
Beckett´s experiences gave him many sources of inspiration for his textual work, as his literary career was not always secure and success at times out of grasp. There were many disturbances, private as well as job-related ones, and his path was not always straight-lined. Writing seemed to be a cure when life was hardly bearable. It was not until the late 1930s, after the publication of Murphy in 1938 and also after the Second World War in particular, that he became quite well-known. He found a larger circle of readers which enabled him to concentrate on his creative literary work at last, which was finally acknowledged by the award of the Nobel Prize in 1969. Today, his plays Endgame (1957) and Waiting for Godot (1952) are well-known across the globe. However, the work which formed the major part of his writing, such as his poems, plays and short stories, is still not entirely common ground. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to focus on his short story One Case in a Thousand, and also, because it contains a lot of autobiographical hints.
Beckett´s move from Dublin to Paris after graduating from Trinity College brought new acquaintances into his life, among them Thomas MacGreevy, a lifelong friend, and more importantly, James Joyce. Both Beckett and Joyce being Irish expatriates in France immediately built a bond between them that only broke when Joyce died in 1941. It is widely acknowledged that Joyce had a great impact on Beckett´s writing style, being his mentor and at times also providing him with work. How stark this influence was, will be analysed in a comparison of Joyce´s A Painful Case and Beckett´s One Case in a Thousand.
When it comes to literature about Samuel Beckett, there is plenty already available. There is quite a number of biographies, the most prominent one probably Damned to Fame (Knowlson, 1996), a close friend who was also authorized by Beckett in life as his biographer. Also, the psychoanalytic sessions during the 1930s are quite well documented and examined. As he spent the major part with Dr Bion, the work most significant to name here is Beckett and Bion (Miller, 2013). His literary work has found a number of notable scholars to analyse and interpret it. Although there is much research on his novels and on the prominent poems and short stories, not all of his pieces have had the same amount of attention. Concerning One Case in a Thousand, there has not been too much published yet. Regarding Joyce, there is plenty available on every subject, including on the short story chosen for this paper.
My research for the chapters on Beckett´s private life and his psychoanalytic sessions is therefore mainly based on The Letters of Samuel Beckett (Fehsenfeld et al. 2009, 1) and on Beckett and Bion. For the purpose of this thesis however, I focused on the late 1920s and 1930s, as there was a lot happening in his life that is relevant to the understanding of One Case in a Thousand. These years also behold the connection between Beckett and Joyce which is also part of this work. Moreover, I found Beckett´s Art of Absence (Ross, 2011) very helpful to get greater insight to the topic in general.
2. Main Part
2.1 Beckett´s life between 1920 and 1940
The seventeen-year old Samuel Beckett started at Trinity College, Dublin in 1923 as an undergraduate, where he studied romance languages. During the years at Trinity he found his first mentor, Professor Thomas Rudmose-Brown. It was him who encouraged Beckett to focus on his own creative writing and Beckett was on the one hand grateful for this support, yet also a bit rejective at times, thinking that too much was demanded of him. During his studies he also undertook several journeys to Italy and France2. Shortly before he was to graduate from Trinity, the future profession of Samuel started to become a topic at family meetings and escalated during the Christmas holidays of 1926/27. While his father, Bill Beckett, was rather indifferent about his sons´ plans of becoming a writer, his mother May was quite anxious that being creative would not secure him a good life. Therefore, she convinced her son to start a career at university. Half-heartedly, but at peace with his mother, Beckett accepted this plan. Briefly, he taught French at Campbell College in Belfast until July 1928. With the help of his former Professor Rudmose-Brown, he made it into the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, a gathering place for French intellectuals. There, he worked as a lector for two years, a period where his own writing was rather untended due to heavy workloads at the École and his efforts to receive a doctor´s degree on his work about Joyce and Proust. While he was living in Paris, he was introduced to several writers by Thomas McGreevy, who taught at the École, too and who became a close friend to Beckett. MacGreevy also helped him to establish in the academic world, promising him a book on Proust and encouraging his PHD plans. Among his new acquaintances in Paris was the by then already quite famous James Joyce. Also Irish and far away from his home-country, Beckett quickly established a close connection to Joyce and his daughter Lucia. Joyce gladly introduced his new friend to several literary circles in the Parisian society. This stimulated Beckett´s own writing and resulted in several poems like for example Whoroscope. Written in only one night, it won him a lyric contest.3
His brief stays with his family at home in Dublin were overshadowed by conflicts between Samuel and his mother. She did not approve of his romantic interest in his cousin Peggy Sinclair, whom he was visiting in Kassel in 1928. It is not clear what May´s reasons were – maybe because Peggy was a close family member or because her father was Jewish – however, the couple split up eventually in 1929. Samuel fled home, feeling neglected by his mother. A year later, he was offered a teaching post at Trinity College, Dublin, which he accepted. This offer gave him the opportunity to come back to Dublin and reunite with his family. Although Beckett´s work was excellent at Trinity, he felt dissatisfied with it, as his post consumed too much of his time, preventing him to fully pursue his aim to be a writer. Furthermore, this period was also marked by family conflicts once again. His mother was disgusted by her son´s writing and expulsed him in the end. Being expelled from home, he found shelter at Trinity and in France, where he travelled together with his brother Frank. By then, it had become quite clear to Beckett that he was only pretending to be interested in an academical career, while he had set his heart on writing long ago.
This finding resulted in the termination of his post at Trinity in 1932. Afterwards, he set off to a trip to Germany and France in order to have some time to think about his now insecure future, as the pieces he sent to several magazines were almost all returned and not accepted. First, Beckett stayed a month in Kassel with the Sinclair family before he moved on to Paris, where it is recorded that he attended Joyce´s fiftieth birthday party. In a little while, several of his writings were finally published.4 The move to London in the same year was connected to the hope to find a publisher for More Pricks Than Kicks, which was out on the market in 1934 - only to be forbidden shortly afterwards.5 The same year, One Case In A Thousand was published, among other articles and reviews by Beckett.6 What followed was a short period in Dublin where he received encouragement and emotional support from his father and several jobs in translation from Rudmose-Brown to help Beckett enhancing his financial situation.
Sadly, Peggy died in May 1933 and was followed by Bill Beckett in June, which meant that his greatest supporter within the family was no more and the love of his early years was irrevocably out of reach. These private dramas made him consult Geoffrey Thompson in London7 in order to do some psychoanalytic work. Beckett was interested in that topic for a while and therefore had read a lot about it beforehand. Thompson recommended Beckett to consult J.A. Hadfield, who in return sent him to Wilfred Bion. In Bion he found a new male supportive character that could partly fill the gap his father had left. They had sessions together until 1935.
His famous novel Murphy was finished by 1935, too, but Beckett struggled to get it published by then. The following years of 1936/37 brought Beckett to Germany once again to visit several museums. In the latter year, he got involved in a car accident, but managed to recover quickly afterwards so that he was able to spend the Christmas holidays and New Year´s Eve with the Joyce family. Only one year later, he was stabbed in the streets of Paris and had to stay in hospital for a couple of weeks. Yet among all those terrible experiences, there was also success visible which enhanced his financial situation quite well. Murphy was finally published in March, there are several poems composed in French and English from that time and in addition to that there were some translations on his desk. The late 1930s are overshadowed by the upcoming war though, and Beckett returned hastily to Paris from his stay in Dublin and later affiliates with the French Résistance to fight the German invasion.
2 Beckett studied French and Italian at Trinity College, Dublin.
3 B. was awarded the Hours Press Prize in 1930.
4 E.g. the Text poem was published in The New Review, Sedendo et Quiescendo in Transition.
5 Placed on the Index of Forbidden Books in Ireland (ibid., p.176)
6 The Bookman demands an article on censorship in Ireland and publishes several reviews; The Criterion publishes review of a translation of Rilke´s poems.
7 Psycho-analysis was not allowed in Dublin at that time.