All the mad things I wish – and the sad things I know

Samuel-Beckett-001At the turning point of this second volume of Beckett’s letters, which is also the turning point of his professional life, the moment when, after so many years of ‘retyping … for rejection’, his best work is finally to be published with enthusiasm by editors determined to let the world know what they have discovered, the author’s partner, Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil, writes to Jérôme Lindon at Editions de Minuit to advise that Beckett does not wish his novel to be entered for the Prix des Critiques. It is 19 April 1951, Beckett is 45, the novel in question is Molloy. Suzanne explains:

What he dreads above all, in the very unlikely event of his receiving a prize, is the publicity which would then be directed, not only at his name and his work, but at the man himself. He judges, rightly or wrongly, that it is impossible for the prizewinner, without serious discourtesy, to refuse to go in for the posturings required by these occasions: warm words for his supporters, interviews, photos, etc etc. And as he feels wholly incapable of this sort of behaviour, he prefers not to expose himself to the risk of being forced into it by entering the competition.

Thus is born the celebrated myth of a writer concerned purely with his art, oblivious to commercial concerns and hence somehow superior to those writers who will gladly stand before a microphone, cheque in hand. It was a myth that would eventually play to Beckett’s advantage, both critical and commercial. But Suzanne’s letter – and it is impossible not to hear Beckett’s voice dictating it – makes no special claims.

more from Tim Parks at the LRB here.