Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, who lived in France for the most of his adult life. He wrote in English and French, often translating his own work into the other language. His work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human nature, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humor. His best-known play, Waiting for Godot (1953) is a comic study of philosophical uncertainty, and, like much of his work, focuses on the absurdity of human existence.

Beckett graduated from Dublin's Trinity College in 1927 and settled in Paris, where he worked with James Joyce and published short stories and the novel Murphy (1938). During World War II, he joined the French Resistance and was eventually forced to leave Paris, but after the war he returned and wrote most of his important works, including the prose trilogy Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (Malone Meurt, 1951) and The Unnamable (L'Innommable, 1953), and the play Endgame (Fin de Partie, 1957).

From the 1960s on, Beckett’s work became more experimental, compact and minimalist. Besides fiction and stage plays, he also wrote scripts for television, film and radio during this time, and began directing some of his own productions as well, resulting in further editing of his published work.

Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. Never exactly mainstream, Beckett is nonetheless considered one of the most important European writers of the 20th century for his influence on modern literature and has become a household name for his ability to impress, shock and confound.

For information on the Samuel Beckett Papers, as well as links to other Beckett-related collections at Washington University and other Beckett resources, please go here.

Modern Literature Collection: The First Fifty Years