About Samuel Beckett (1906-1989):
This really is a true European author, this is why we French claim him for ourselves. He indeed wrote a lot in French and lived most of his life in Paris from 1937 onwards. His family was well-off protestant and Irish. He did all his studies in Ireland and graduated from the Trinity college in Dublin in 1927. In 1928, he went to Paris as an exchange teacher at the ENS, our most renowned tertiary school. He rapidely took part in the intellectual life of the capital, city, since he published essays and poems as soon as 1929 and also became a member of James Joyce's literary circle). In 1930, he returned to Dublin to lecture. His first play, Le Kid, was a parody of Corneille, performed in Dublin. From then on, he was a very active writer, but not always finished his plays. And his works were a little shunned by the critic and the public. In 1937, he met his wife-to-be in a Parisian hospital, where he was treated for being stabbed by a pimp.
When the war and the Occupation came, he joined the French Résistance movement, eventually immigrating in the South of France, because it was getting too dangerous. There, he wrote Watt and some poems in French. In 1946, the couple were back in Paris, where Beckett began to write regularly in French; the works that made him famous were written then: Malone Meurt, L'innomable (both published in 1951). En Attendant Godot, his most famous play, was originally written in French, and published in 1952. After its Première, the play became a European success, and then a worldwide one, after his translation into English in 1954. He wrote many more plays, actually writing their first version most of the time in French.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969, at a time when writing about absurd was trendy and the existantialism genre was at its peak. His work is qualified of minimalist, and actually evolved in a defined genre at the time, with many of the French playwrights I know dealing with the absurdity of existence and making it funny (Ionesco, Gary, Giraudoux...). His plays were published mainly in Great Britain, Ireland or France and performed all over Europe. His fame was so great that his plays were performed all over the world in festivals and theatres in 1986 to celebrate his 80th birthday. He wrote one last play, L'Image, in 1988, one year before he died.
He can be qualified of a true European and his work fits nicely into both cultures; his works are extremely popular today among the French intelligentsia, and his humour is widely appreciated. You can even see the English version of Waiting for Godot in Paris today; that's a bit ironic, isn't it?
Friday, 22nd December, 2000:
que ferais-je sans ce monde (what would I do without this world)
que ferais-je sans ce monde sans visage sans questions
où être ne dure qu'un instant où chaque instant
verse dans le vide dans l'oubli d'avoir été
sans cette onde où à la fin
corps et ombre ensemble s'engloutissent
que ferais-je sans ce silence gouffre des murmures
haletant furieux vers le secours vers l'amour
sans ce ciel qui s'élève
sur la poussieère de ses lests
que ferais-je je ferais comme hier comme aujourd'hui
Samuel Beckett, Collected poems in English and French, London, 1977, John Calder (Publishers)
what would I do without this world faceless incurious
where to be lasts but an instant where every instant
spills in the void the ignorance of having been
without this wave where in the end
body and shadow together are engulfed
what would I do without this silence where the murmurs die
the pantings the frenzies towards succour towards love
without this sky that soars
above its ballast dust
what would I do what I did yesterday and the day before
Translated by Beckett himself (Samuel Beckett, Collected poems... Ibid.). That's pretty rare to have a bilingual poet... Let's make the most of it...