I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Posted in France

George O' Brien
The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929-1940, by Samuel Beckett, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck (eds), Cambridge University Press, 782 pp, £35.00, ISBN: 978-0521867931 The opening sentence of the editors’ introduction to this imposing, revealing and altogether most welcome work concludes with the word “intensity”. And while it would be foolish to search for le mot juste to describe something as various as a person’s correspondence, never mind a correspondence like Beckett’s, where verbal heterogeneity is present to an exceptional, not to say aggravated, degree, “intensity” is a word that does convey one of the basic dispositions and tonalities of the gifted and unhappy young man who haunts these pages – so much so, indeed, that “intensity” may be thought of as a subjective counterweight to the objective experiences of failure which loom so dauntingly large, and in so many realms, throughout the years in question. But before going on to elaborate on this volume’s expression of such a psychological economy, a word or two about the book itself, the first of four projected volumes which when complete will have published over two thousand of the fifteen thousand pieces of correspondence the editors have located and transcribed. Judging by this exemplary inaugural selection, the overall enterprise promises to be an extraordinary commitment, not only to the scholarly virtues of patience, concentration and scrupulousness but to a deep sense of the cultural value of the writer as a twentieth-century avatar. It’s not difficult to imagine periodic cries of “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on” from the editors and their understandably large team (including associate editors Dan Gunn and George Craig), particularly since we’re told the path to publication was not smooth. The most obvious instance of editorial endeavour is the remarkable amount of detailed annotation provided: the bibliography comes to thirty closely printed pages, and the annotations also excerpt additional letters. Not surprisingly, one of the pictures of Beckett which emerges from these years is that of someone who was not only exceptionally well-read but of someone who was a compulsive reader – mostly, as the 1930s went on, in French and German, with now and then some Italian. Every book he read seems to be accounted for, and relevant editions cited. His voracious reading (an expression of intensity in itself, even without the outbursts of asperity in which it often resulted) was supplemented by an only slightly…

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