Skip to content

Reflections of a working writer and reader



Joseph O’Neill on Beckett’s Letters

The Letters of Samuel Beckett – Volume I: 1929-1940 : from a review in the New York Times by Joseph O’Neill, the author of the novel, Netherland.

He writes, with great difficulty and doubt, difficult and doubtful poems. He alternates between self-laceration and cockiness. He is profoundly alienated, not least because he inhabits a world of rejection slips, indefinite longings, extreme aesthetic sensitivity and (in the words of a friend) “passionate nihilism.”

His disorders are physical, too. Although his spleen is clearly in fine working order, he suffers from a series of ailments whose details he entrusts to his stalwart confidant Thomas McGreevy. Most significant are acutely distressing nocturnal “heart attacks,” which lead him to try cure by psychoanalysis. We also learn of pulled teeth, dry pleurisy (“I feel all right except for a reluctance to sneeze & belch”), intestinal pains, boils and — brace yourself — “a sebaceous cyst in my anus, which happily a fart swept away before it became operable.”

4 Responses to “Joseph O’Neill on Beckett’s Letters”

  1. Dick says:

    I’ve just ordered the letters on Amazon. Can’t wait to get stuck in. “[A] sebaceous cyst in my anus, which happily a fart swept away before it became operable.” Sublime.

    jb says: Sounds like something to take on holiday, Dick.

  2. Boxofficegirl says:

    I loved this it made me laugh out loud.

    jb says: There’s something about Beckett and the Beckett myth that makes us forget how funny he can be. Thinking about this reminded me that Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, his wife, when Beckett won the Nobel prize in Literature, said: “This is a catastrophe.”

  3. Chris says:

    Being not very familiar with his life, I was fond of the special depth of knowledge he has about literature, different languages, painting and music.

  4. Jim Murdoch says:

    Yes, I remember when I was reading his biographies I thought what a miserable time he must have had. Not got my own copy of the letter yet, but I will.

    jb says: Me, too, Jim. Seems quite irresistible.