Beckett: Storming for Beauty

Professional success touches with its transfiguring staff even the stoutest resister. For the first fifty-odd years of his life Samuel Beckett managed to elude Fortuna’s bounteous glance. On the opening page of that knotty late textWorstward Ho he set out, succinctly and famously, his negative aesthetic: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” By that time, however, he had experienced very great success, critical and popular, primarily because of Waiting for Godot—billed by Variety as “the laugh sensation of two continents”1—which after its early productions in the mid-1950s made his name known throughout the world. It was a triumph that astonished him, and the inevitable light it threw on him not only professionally but personally caused him some dismay. For he seems genuinely to have been a modest person who feared and shied from the limelight. In 1969, when news came that her husband had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Suzanne Beckett is said to have exclaimed, “Quelle catastrophe!” She knew her man.

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