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5/17/99: In the Journalistic Trenches
In a finding sure to startle the literary world, it was discovered that
writer Samuel Beckett wrote for the society pages of the Foxrock
Gazette, covering a wide range of subjects from cuisine reviews to an
advice column. Literary sleuth Duncan Myrth, who uncovered the writings
late last year, says that the journalistic articles "will establish once
and for all the true and unique genius of Samuel Beckett."
Myrth was immersed in researching a book on a serial killer who
terrorized Dublin in the late 20s when he stumbled upon the Foxrock
Gazette society page. Long an admirer of Beckett's, Myrth was struck by
the prose style of a writer called Immanuel Bucket.
"I knew it was him, immediately. Convincing others was not so
easy," admits Myrth, who abandoned his serial killer book in lieu of
collecting and publishing Beckett's journalistic work. The working title of
the Beckett collection is tentatively called: Reviews and Columns for
In the late 20s, Beckett, known mostly for his plays (Waiting
for Godot, Happy Days) was living in Paris, writing poems and fiction.
Unable to sustain a living on his spare and experimental writings, Myrth
says that Beckett turned to journalistic writings. "It proved impossible
for Beckett to get a job with a French newspaper," Myrth says. "He had no
recourse but to turn back to his birthplace, Foxrock, and press upon the
editor of the paper, Colin Nye, an old family friend."
Nye agreed to accept work from Beckett, though it is clear from
their correspondence that the relationship between the two men was always
"Nye kept trying to get Beckett to put a positive spin on things,"
says Myrth, 46, a native of New York City. "It was especially complicated,
him being so far away. Beckett's restaurant reviews, for example, were
based on Beckett's visits to area pubs years before. Sometimes reviews were
published for pubs that didn't even exist anymore."
Myrth points out that the "gardening and advice columns were easier
According to the correspondence, the method of getting Beckett's
writing to Nye consisted of carrier pigeons who would fly Beckett's
journalistic work to Nye. Nye, in turn, would "place a few farthings into
an envelope and send the pigeon back to a grateful Beckett."
Myrth insists that the money "was bread and a bed, for sure.
Beckett wasn't employed otherwise. And though he certainly appreciated the
money, he still couldn't bring himself to toe Nye's line."
For example, a Sunday paper in March, 1929, contained three stories
from Beckett. Here's a sampling from the restaurant review:
"I sat down in O'Reilly's Pub. Stiffness in my joints. I placed my
hat on the table beside a plate of bread, finely grained with a crust the
hardness of brick. My hat tipped and fell to the floor. Reaching for it I
fell, too, the chair losing its leg. The pub man came and stroked my
ankles. I held his head, greasy and louse-filled, to my chest."
On the same page, Beckett, writing, of course, as Immanuel Bucket,
was advising readers on getting an early start for their gardens: "Bend
down knees to the ground fingers stabbing at the soil. Bulbs beneath the
surface of the earth like a sleeping egg, no, no that's not what I mean,
better to stay there, fingers stuck in dirt, digging into the darkness,
remembering the clouds."
Beckett, who was born in 1906 and died in 1989, carried an advice
column for almost two years, according to Myrth. It was entitled "Just Ask
Bucket," and Myrth says that though the earlier installments carried a hint
of concern from Beckett, by the end of his stint at Foxrock Gazette,
"he'd pretty much given up any pretense of caring."
In response to a Foxrock reader whose wife had left him, taking
their three children, Beckett a la Bucket wrote: "Alone. The walls empty
save for a spider spinning. Go to the deserted quays. Inky black of the
dead water. Ships plunge over the edge of the earth. Shoe. Your shoe falls
into the black waters. Sucked under."
"Nye pulled the plug on him after that," says Myrth. "Readers were
outraged, even those who knew that Bucket was really Beckett, home town boy
trying to make it in Paris."
By then, however, Beckett was beginning to build a reputation as a
poet, playwright and fiction writer. "He was still basically penniless,"
says Myrth, "but at least he was getting his other stuff out there. He
didn't need newspapers anymore."
Myrth predicts his Reviews and Columns for Nothing will be
completed by Spring.
Comments or suggestions for Jim Poyser or Joe Lee? Email them at email@example.com.
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