Samuel Beckett’s Secret Artistic Life

Samuel Beckett's doodles Courtesy the Beckett Estate Via: BBC

Samuel Beckett’s doodles.
Courtesy the Beckett Estate, Via: BBC.

Samuel Beckett is best known for his theater of the absurd, but the Irish writer definitely had a good eye too. In a manuscript for Beckett’s early novel Murphy, which will go on public view on June 11, doodles representing fellow writers, golfers, and even Charlie Chaplin crop up on several pages.

“When inspiration ran low he had a tendency to do his little vignettes,” Beckett expert Dr. John Pilling told the BBC. “He had a certain artistic talent. He did rather good little character sketches.”

The manuscript, which is made of six leather-bound notebooks, was bought last year for a staggering £1 million ($1.679 million) by the University of Reading for its Beckett Collection, the world’s largest archive on the writer. It had been privately owned since the 1960s. 

“As the leading center for Beckett studies worldwide, it was a great opportunity for us to bring back one of the most important literary works, hidden for ages, back to the public,” a university representative told the BBC. 

Some might find the £1 million spent to acquire the piece hard to justify, particularly at a time when UK universities are facing extreme financial challenges, but Pilling is unequivocal: “It’s something of a miracle that we acquired it over more well-heeled institutions,” he said. “It could have gone for twice or three times the amount and still could have been a bargain”


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