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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The Hard Life

Ann Kennedy Smith
Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir and Me, A Memoir, by Deirdre Bair, Atlantic Books, 288 pp, £18.99, ISBN: 978-1786492654 Halfway through her book Parisian Lives, the American biographer Deirdre Bair confesses to a crime. For years she had tried to get her hands on Samuel Beckett’s personal letters to Thomas MacGreevy, sure that they held the key to why Beckett left Ireland in October 1937 and moved to France. At last she got her chance, when MacGreevy’s nieces reluctantly permitted her to read them under strict conditions. But as she sat typing in their home that wintry Sunday in Dublin, listening to the family having lunch in the next room, Bair knew that she did not have enough time, in the limited hours the sisters had allowed her, to transcribe all of the correspondence she needed. “I made the only dishonest decision of my professional life that afternoon,” she admits. She discreetly tucked away a selection of the correspondence into her handbag to take back to her hotel room. “The biographer at work,” Janet Malcolm writes, “is like the professional burglar, breaking into a house, rifling through certain drawers that he has good reason to think contain the jewelry and money, and triumphantly bearing his loot away.” Malcolm’s book The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes (reissued by Granta in 2020) insists that writers and readers of biography are equally guilty of “voyeurism and busybodyism”: they tiptoe down the corridor together and gaze through the keyhole. The apparatus of serious scholarship in a literary biography is simply a veneer that lends respectability to the snooping. Deirdre Bair returned the stolen letters to the MacGreevy collection the following day, and no harm was done. Yet it’s a revealing admission, showing that, like the trained reporter she was, she was prepared to go to any lengths to get a scoop. And a scoop it certainly was. When Samuel Beckett: A Biography was published in 1978, it caused a sensation and put a lot of academic noses seriously out of joint. Beckett scholars queued up to write sneering reviews of it, pointing out its errors and gaps. Fair as some of these criticisms were, Deirdre Bair’s real crime was that she, an unknown woman, had written the book about Beckett that none of the professors and academics had dared to. It is extraordinary, but apparently true, that in 1970 Deirdre Bair made the decision to connect her…



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