Beckett: A Bibliography of Secondary Literature (edited 16/04/13)

My starting point for Beckett is the four-volume Grove Press Centenary edition, containing seven novels, thirty-two dramatic works, thirty poems, fifty-four stories, texts and novellas, three pieces of criticism. Though not a true Collected Works, the set forms the essential part of the Beckett canon. I’m now reading Beckett’s Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable (sharing the reading with Emily).

Of the thirty or so writers that constitute the core of my literary exploration, I like to go beyond the primary works. Looking past the Grove Press collection I intend to read an enlightening biography, the letters and Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment. But which biography, and what other ‘divine analysis’ is worth reading?

Beckett distrusted biography as a form of knowledge but curiosity is irrepressible and Knowle’s biography the most illuminating. Beckett critical scholarship is vast and frequently dull, but what are the works that, to quote Hugh Kenner are not intended “to explain Samuel Beckett’s work but to help the reader think about it.” Which works are worth exploring? Starter list below, please help me to add any worthy titles (or to remove discredited or dull works):

  1. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett – James Knowlson
  2. The Irish Beckett – John P Harrington
  3. Beckett Remembering: Remembering Beckett: Unpublished Interviews with Samuel Beckett and Memories of Those Who Knew Him  – James Knowlson
  4. Flaubert, Joyce and Beckett: The Stoic Magicians – Hugh Kenner
  5. Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study – Hugh Kenner
  6. The Beckett Canon – Ruby Cohn
  7. Beckett’s Dying Words – Christopher Ricks
  8. “Where now? Who now?” (The Book to Come) – Maurice Blanchot
  9. Know happiness – on Beckett (Very Little…Almost Nothing) – Simon Critchley
  10. Beckett’s Fiction – Leslie Hill
  11. Narrative Emotions: Beckett’s Genealogy of Love (Love’s Knowledge) – Martha Nussbaum
  12. Saying “I” No More – Daniel Katz
  13. Samuel Beckett: Photographs – John Minihan
  14. Samuel Beckett (Overlook Illustrated Lives) – Gerry Dukes
  15.  Beckett chapter (Theatre of the Absurd) – Martin Esslin
  16. Beckett: “En Attendant Godot” and “Fin de Partie” (Critical Guides to French Texts) – J.P. Little
  17. The Beckett Country – Eoin O’Brien
  18. Samuel Beckett and the Meaning of Being – Lance St. John Butler
  19. How it Was – Anne Atik
  20. No Author Better Served – edited by Maurice Harmon
  21. Samuel Beckett: Humanistic Perspectives edited by Morris Beja
  22. Review of Contemporary Fiction, volume 7, #2, Samuel Beckett issue
  23. The Mechanic Muse – Hugh Kenner
  24. Just Play: Beckett’s Theater – Ruby Cohn
  25. Innovation in Samuel Beckett’s Fiction – Rubin Rabinovitz
  26. The Drama in the Text – Enoch Brater
  27. Bram van Velde (Grove Press)
  28. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett – Stanley E. Gontarski
  29. On Beckett – Alain Badiou
  30. Samuel Beckett’s self-referential drama – Shimon Levy
  31. Samuel Beckett – Andrew Gibson
  32. Samuel Beckett and the end of modernity – Richard Begam
  33. Beckett and Poststructuralism – Anthony Uhlmann
  34. Samuel Beckett: Repetition, Theory, and Text – Steven Connor
  35. Beckett: A Guide for the Perplexed – Jonathan Boulter
  36. Remembering and the Sound of Words: Mallarmé, Proust, Joyce, Beckett – Adam Piette
  37. A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett – Hugh Kenner

22 thoughts on “Beckett: A Bibliography of Secondary Literature (edited 16/04/13)

  1. Christopher Ricks – Beckett’s Dying Words is a full length book worth adding.

    Beckett himself said that Blanchot’s “Where now? Who now?”, a review-essay of the trilogy, was for him (quoting a letter from memory) “the biggest thing”. It’s in various editions but “The Book to Come” is the standard location.

  2. This is likely to be such a useful resource for me, Anthony – thanks for getting the conversation and list started! Revisiting Molloy is getting me curious to know more (anything) about Beckett’s life, and I like Kenner’s criteria of encouraging thought rather than providing explanation.

    • I’m torn between reading all the primary work first, or Knowlson’s biography. Normally I won’t read secondary sources until I’ve read the essential works. I may read the biography after the Trilogy.

  3. Pingback: A Beckett resource. | Who Killed Lemmy Caution?

    • I like Knowlson a lot, he is a great source for anyone studying Beckett.
      Here are some additions to your list:

      1. Saying I No More, Daniel Katz
      2. Samuel Beckett, photographs by John Minihan
      3. Samuel Beckett, Gerry Dukes (Overlook Illustrated Lives)

      • Thank you, Sigrun, for the suggestions and for visiting my blog.

        Katz takes a similar position to Simon Critchley arguing for the view that ‘that the expression of voicelessness in Beckett is not silence.’ Sounds essential.

  4. The chapter on Beckett in Martin Esslin’s ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ is worth reading. While it does make the association of Beckett and the Absurd which Beckett would reject, this chapter does, in the words of SB himself ‘raise many hares without pursuing them too far’; almost paraphrasing Hugh Kenner.

    Also of merit – I think – is J.P. Little’s guide to En Attendant Godot and Fin de Partie, which is part of the Grant and Cutler Critical Guide Series. It’s an incredibly short text and seeks too to simply flag up the various antagonisms in Beckett’s work without overworking them.

    While both of these texts principally focus on the plays, there is a lot of cross contamination, with both Little and Esslin exploring how themes present in the plays are often more explicit in his novels.

    Hope this helps (awesome blog by the by),

    • Thanks, Josh, for the kind words and suggestions.

      I have the Esslin on my list to check out, so good to have confirmation that the Beckett chapter is enlightening. The Little book also looks interesting.

  5. What about Gontarski, Badiou, Levy and Gibson? I’ve not read any of them, but many are those praising them. Badiou and Gibson’s readings strongly differs from those of the poststructuralist and deconstructionist readings.
    As far as the last approaches are concerned there’s Begam’s “The end of modernity”, Uhlmann’s “Beckett and poststructuralism” and S.Connor’s studies on Beckett. Boulter also seems to point in that direction.
    A good book on Beckett – both a readable and enjoying one – is Boulter’s guide for the Perplexed on Beckett.
    I’m looking forward to read Ricks’ book as it was mentioned by many to be one of the best – if not the best – critic study on Beckett.
    Another interesting book seems to be Adam Piette’s.

    • Thank you very much, Luigi, without exception all great additions to this list.

      Rick’s book has a wonderful reputation. It is still on my to-read stack.

      Piette’s book looks fascinating, and I really ought to read Badiou’s book.

  6. Kenner’s A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett is superb. incidentally, Kenner is the only author of The Stoic Comedians. Davenport is listed as illustrator. Also an excellent book.

    • Thanks, Richard, for the correction. Since writing the original list a couple of years ago, I’ve read both and agree they are both outstanding.

      • oh, you’ve read the Reader’s Guide? I didn’t see it on the list, otherwise I wouldn’t have said anything… it is good though, isn’t it?

        • O, no, sorry, I thought you were referring to Grove’s critical study, also by Kenner and excellent. I now see the difference. I’ll add it to the list. Thanks, Richard.

  7. I’ve read Kenner’s Guide and part of his Critical Study and I have to say although the first one is an overall good introduction to Beckett, his critical study seemed to me much more interesting, focusing on specific topics.
    As for the rest I would be interested in reading Connor and Gontarski’s books. Have you read “The intent of undoing in Beckett”?

  8. Don’t snooze on Adorno’s essay “Trying to understand endgame.” I’ve been working on Beckett for about a year and it’s the best piece of commentary on Beckett I’ve found to date.

    • Thanks, Patrick, Adorno is very insightful on Beckett, though Beckett didn’t always agree with his analysis, which, of course, doesn’t make it wrong.

  9. Mark Nixon, Daniel Albright (the latter for for Sam’s aesthetics). Mark Nixon’s work is exemplary and full of good things. “Beckett’s Books” by Matthew Feldman is also well worth your time, working the same ground as Mark Nixon. Albright’ deployment of theory is judiciously synthesised and never allowed to overburden or derail in to greedy opportunism and vacancy. Badiou,s Beckett is wonderful and full of love, whilst his philosophy is for me wholly irresponsible, his book is energised in a way that Gibson’s is not. These along with the letters of course, and the Cronin bio isn’t to be overlooked, but saying again, after Ricks and Piette, Mark Nixon.

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