Snooping through Private Things

Samuel Beckett was very clear on the subject of whether he wanted his letters published after his death. Most of them were to a lover, and in addition to being private, were on the subjects he thought divorced from his art.
Writing in January 1958 to his American publisher Barney Rosset, he declared, “I dislike the ventilation of private documents. These throw no light on my work,” and the next day, to the theatre director and long-time Beckett collaborator Alan Schneider, “I do not like publication of letters.”
In the last days of his life, under pressure from many whose meal ticket depended in part on having continued material from him to publish (or analyze, in the case of the academics), he relented -- a little. He agreed that only those letters that had bearing on his work might be published for study.

So, of course:
Surely there is nothing in a writer’s life or letters that does not have a bearing on his work, as life and work inextricably commingle.

This problem was more acute in the first two volumes. In the period of his life that they covered, from 1929 to 1956, Beckett was virtually unknown to the public, and the majority of his letters were, inevitably, personal. However, the thing was managed, and those first two volumes are substantial indeed, and seem destined to be the most interesting of the projected four.
The first two volumes! Irrelevant, private material now published in two thick, academic volumes for your pleasant consideration in direct violation of the author's wishes -- even that small exception extorted at his deathbed.

Honor is without price.


Anonymous said...

Apparently if you do not want letters read, you must burn them. Then I suppose your ghost can enjoy the academics endless speculation, wailing, and gnashing of teeth at not picking through your dirty laundry. I do occasionally wonder how this will work out in the future with twitter and e-mail. I can imagine whatever playwright or author's e-mails and selfies being gone through with a sieve.

E Hines said...

I see nothing wrong with destroying those letters when they've been read and answered (or not, if that's the decision). Keeping them just exposes the writer and the recipient to things like this.

Twitter? Email? Facebook? Who puts personal stuff into those?

Come to that, President Hines' important conversations all would take place on walks around the area.

Eric Hines

Eric Blair said...

Ok, how many here actually refer back to either letters they wrote or letters they received?

I mean, at one time, copies of letters sent were generally made, but that tended to be for commercial and political purposes.

The fact that his letters even existed at the end of his life leads me to believe that he wanted them known. Even if he said otherwise. Because otherwise they would not have been saved.