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General Criticism

Samuel Beckett: A Critical Study

Hugh Kenner
University of California Press, 1974, ISBN 0520006410; Paperback, Out of Print. [
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We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

Samuel Beckett: The Comic Gamut

Ruby Cohn
Rutgers University Press, 1962, ISBN 0813504023; Paperback, Out of Print. [
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This early, important critical study doesn't have an argument per se; that is, it is less a rigorously argued thesis than an overview of Beckett's works with a general consideration of their comic effects in mind. Cohn employs the theory of comedy proposed by Henri Bergson in Le Rire (1899) as a foundation for contrast with the narrative dynamics of Beckett's puns, clowns, and dire scenarios. The book concludes that "far from Bergson's analysis of the comic as mechanical aberration imposed on the élan vital, Beckett's comic heroes are limp rags of life lost in a stone-cold universe."
This sentence displays Cohn's occasional weakness: sometimes her metaphors come unhinged from her subject (Beckett would never use this description) and appear ridiculous, but she is usually excellent at thoughtful summary and she shows a fine ear for the linguistic jokes and translation differences. The book has thirteen chapters, echoing Beckett's "fascination" with the number: Murphy has thirteen chapters, and so many character names (Molloy, Malone, Macmann, Mahood) begin with the thirteenth letter of the alphabet. However, some chapters provide greater depth than others, and while Cohn is expansive on Watt, for instance, the book's four pages on Krapp's Last Tape are little more than perfunctory. There is also some undue repetition, so the odd joke once noted and explained is unpleasantly noted and explained again, but Cohn is best when precisely locating the problems Beckett poses to a reader or audience:

With full awareness of our impotence, we are compelled to keep trying to know. By playing the compulsion of questions against the impossibility of answers, Beckett obtains the brilliant and excruciating tension of his work. For this compulsion towards knowledge in the face of the impossibility of knowledge defines the comic -- and tragic -- irony of the human situation.


Samuel Beckett: The Language of Self

Frederick John Hoffman
Southern Illinois University Press, 1962, ISBN 9999934242; Paperback, Out of Print. [
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We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

The Long Sonata of the Dead: A Study of Samuel Beckett

Michael Robinson
Grove Press, 1969, ISBN 0394172868; Paperback, Out of Print. [
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We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

Beckett the Shape Changer

Katherine Worth, editor
Routledge Kegan & Paul, 1975, ISBN 0710081235; Hardcover, Out of Print. [
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We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

Beckett/Beckett: The Classic Study of a Modern Genius

Vivian Mercier
Souvenir Press, 1994, ISBN 0285630105; Paperback, $12.95 [

We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

No Symbols Where None Intended

Carlton Lake, editor.
University of Texas Press, 1984, ISBN 9994089153; Paperback, Out of Print. [
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Billed as "A Catalogue of Books, Manuscripts, and Other Materials Relating to Samuel Beckett." Reviews or commentary are welcome!

The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett's Dramatic Texts

S. E. Gontarski
Indiana University Press, 1985, ISBN 0253330297; Hardcover, Out of Print. [
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We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

On Beckett: Essays and Criticism

S. E. Gontarski, editor.

1. Grove Press, 1986, ISBN 0802112099; Hardcover, Out of Print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

2. Grove Press, 1986, ISBN 0394622316; Paperback, Out of Print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

Myth and Ritual in the Plays of Samuel Beckett

Katherine H. Burkman, Editor
Associated University Press, 1987, ISBN 0838632998; Hardcover $32.50 [

We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

Samuel Beckett

Andrew K. Kennedy

Cambridge University Press, 1989, ISBN 0521274885; Paperback $17.95. Out of Print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

Refreshingly free from academic jargon, Andrew Kennedy’s Samuel Beckett is an acute and insightful examination of Beckett’s major works up to and including Play. It is also free from a larger critical agenda or theoretical intentions – while Kennedy highlights various interpretations of Beckett’s works, he careful avoids espousing his own, confining his examinations to the internal dynamics and development of Beckett’s writing. Theme, structure, language, and narrative style are emphasized and often brilliantly illuminated by Kennedy’s direct yet lyrical prose, and he goes to great lengths to demonstrate how each piece is a logical but often revolutionary product of Beckett’s growth as a writer, thereby establishing a framework for understanding his oeuvre as whole. Especially worthwhile are Kennedy’s comments on the Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. In a lucid discussion of the works’ complex layers of fiction, metafiction, and meta-narration, Kennedy unravels the Trilogy’s jumbled skein of voices to highlight the thematic threads that bind the three novels together: the diminishment of the self, the weight of the authorial burden, and the almost mystical self-consciousness inherent in the act of writing itself.
While perhaps a touch too basic for the Beckett enthusiast, Kennedy’s accessible and intelligent book makes a fine introduction for the student or casual reader. Its only noteworthy flaw is its limited scope – a few more chapters on the radio plays, shorter dramatic works, and final novellas would have been much appreciated. (ABR)


Selective Chronology of Life and Works
Introduction: Ireland, Paris, Vision and Form
Part I. The Plays:
1. Context for the plays
2. Waiting for Godot
3. Endgame
4. Krapp’s Last Tape
5. Happy Days
6. Play
Part II. The Trilogy of Novels
7. Contexts for the Fiction, Murphy
8. Molloy
9. Malone Dies
10. The Unnameable
Part III. Concluding Reflections
Select Bibliography

Samuel Beckett (Modern Critical Views)

Harold Bloom & William Golding, Editors.
Chelsea House, 1990, ISBN 0-87754-651-7; Hardcover $37.95 [

From Bloom's "Modern Critical Views" series, this is a collection of essays on Beckett's work.

Samuel Beckett's Self Referential Drama: The Three I's

Simon Levy
Palgrave, 1990, ISBN 0312032455; Hardcover $45.00. Out of Print. [
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We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

The World of Samuel Beckett

Joseph A. Smith, Introduction
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991, ISBN 0801841356; Paperback $16.95 [

From the Johns Hopkins "Psychiatry and the Humanities," series, vol 12. From the publisher:

The World of Samuel Beckett brings together a distinguished group of authorities, among them Beckett's longtime associates and colleagues Herbert Blau and Martin Esslin. In a chapter on Beckett's Enough, Blau concedes that parts of the playwright's work can be lyrical and beguiling, but "it's still an appalling vision". Esslin (who coined the term "theater of the absurd") challenges the notion that Beckett is difficult or depressing, arguing instead that he is basically a comic writer, gallows humor thought it be. Angela Moorjani sees Beckett's writing as the product of a cryptic text inscribed within. Bennett Simon, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on Beckett, examines the self in current art and psychoanalysis. Joseph H. Smith emphasizes that Beckett, like Freud and Lacan, challenges any notions of "cure" as the easy achievement of happiness.

Samuel Beckett: A Casebook

Jennifer M. Jeffers & Kimball King, Editors.
Garland/Routledge, 1998, ISBN 0815325517, Library Binding $75.00 [

From the publisher:

Samuel Beckett: A Casebook may be characterized as a new collection of essays by a generation of Beckett scholars who did not have access to the author. This text demarcates the line between the critical work produced when Beckett was alive, and the critical work produced within ten years of the author's death. This collection is distinctive, too, because the text offers a variety of critical perspectives which engage and problematize Beckett's dramatic canon. From Deleuzean rhizomatics to New Historicism to the crucial question of gender -- each reading re-positions Beckett's plays and forces us to rethink our standard interpretations of Beckett's drama.

Saying "I" No More: Subjectivity and Consciousness in the Prose of Samuel Beckett

Daniel Katz

1. Northwestern University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8101-1682-0; Hardcover $77.00 [Browse/Purchase]

2.Northwestern University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8101-1683-9; Paperback $25.00 [Browse/Purchase]

From the publisher:

In recent criticism, Samuel Beckett's prose has been increasingly described as a labor of refusal -- a refusal not only of what traditionally has made possible narrative and the novel but also of the major conventional suppositions concerning the primacy of consciousness, subjectivity, and expression for the artistic act. In its literal disavowal of consciousness and expression, much of Beckett's prose takes place in the hypothetical mode, against its own stated impossibility. Beginning from the premise that Beckett never betrays his belief in "the impossibility to express" and that the conventional romantic and metaphysical notions of "expression" are resolutely rejected in Beckett's postwar prose, Saying I No More explores the Beckettian refusal. Katz posits that the expression of voicelessness in Beckett is not silence, that the negativity and negation so evident in the great writer's work are not simply affirmed, but that the valorization of abnegation, emptiness, impotence, or the "no" can all too easily become itself an affirmation of power or an inverted imposition of force.

Beckett Writing Beckett: The Author in the Autograph

H. Porter Abbot
Cornell University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8014-3246-4; Hardcover $41.50 [

Reviews from the publisher:

"[Abbott's] lucid style and willingness to place Beckett in new contexts make the volume accessible and interesting for scholars interested in life-writing, the movement from modernism to postmodernism, or new and fruitful ways to discuss authorial agency."--Harry Vandervlist, University of Calgary, Modern Drama, 40 (1997)

"Abbott's scholarly book is a painstaking and loving work that contributes to both autographical and Beckettian studies."--Ana Shidlo, Tel Aviv University, Modern Fiction Studies, Summer 1997

Samuel Beckett

Jennifer Birkett & Kate Ince, editors.

1. Longman, 1999, ISBN 0582298067; Hardcover $69.95. Out of Print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

2. Addison-Wesley, 1999, ISBN 0582298075; Textbook binding $35.20 [Browse/Purchase]

We do not have any information regarding this work, and would welcome any reviews or other material.

Chronicles of Disorder

David Weisberg

1. State University of New York Press, 2000, ISBN 079144709X; Hardcover $55.50 [Browse/Purchase]

2. State University of New York Press, 2000, ISBN 0791447103; Paperback $18.95 [Browse/Purchase]

From the publisher:

Offers a striking new interprestation of Beckett's major fiction, demonstrating how his development as a writer was shaped by shifting twentieth-century ideas about the social function of literature.

Engagement and Indifference: Beckett and the Practical

Henry Sussman & Christopher Devenney, editors.

1. State University of New York Press, 2000, ISBN 0791447650; Hardcover $55.50 [Browse/Purchase]

2. State University of New York Press, 2000, ISBN 0791447669; Paperback $18.95 [Browse/Purchase]

From the publisher:

Explores the hidden political and ethical dimensions of the work of Samuel Beckett, an author who might otherwise be considered indifferent to such considerations.

The Complete Critical Guide to Samuel Beckett

David Pattie

1. Routledge Press, 2001, ISBN 0415202531; Hardcover $80.00 [Browse/Purchase]

2. Routledge Press, 2001, ISBN 041520254X; Paperback $19.95 [Browse/Purchase]

From the publisher:

Samuel Beckett's radical drama, prose and poetry challenged and forever changed the concepts of literature and theatre. His work remains a core part of introductory courses on literary history, drama, theatre or performance and also features in more specialist modules such as Modernism or The Absurd. Many courses on twentieth century literature begin with Beckett. However, strange as it may seem, this book is the first single-authored introductory guide which covers life and contexts, work and criticism, as well as poetry, prose, drama, and radio plays.

Beckett and Eros: The Death of Humanism

Paul Davies
Palgrave, 2001, ISBN 0312234074, Hardcover $65.00 [

From the publisher:

Beckett and Eros: Death of Humanism explores Beckett's tragic projection in which spiritual, political, and gender experience are combined, exposing the erroneous operations of Cartesian awareness which become sexualized in the dramatic gender conflict in myth and literature. Beckett and Eros is the first book in 25 years to give an answer to the question, Do we mean love when we say love? ...soul when we say soul?; Davies' approach offers a startling point for valuable dialogue between radical new age thought and the postmodernism of academe.

The Beckett Canon

Ruby Cohn
University of Michigan Press, 2001, ISBN 0-472-11190-6; Hardcover $65.00 [

From the publisher:

Samuel Beckett is unique in literature. Born and educated in Ireland, he lived most of his life in Paris. His literary output was rendered in either English or French, and he often translated one to the other, but there is disagreement about the contents of his bilingual corpus. A Beckett Canon by renowned theater scholar Ruby Cohn offers an invaluable guide to the entire corpus, commenting on Beckett's work in its original language.

Beginning in 1929 with Beckett's earliest work, the book examines the variety of genres in which he worked: poems, short stories, novels, plays, radio pieces, teleplays, reviews, and criticism. Cohn grapples with the difficulties in Beckett's work, including the opaque erudition of the early English verse and fiction, and the searching depths and syntactical ellipsis of the late works.

Specialist and nonspecialist readers will find A Beckett Canon valuable for its remarkable inclusiveness. Cohn has examined the holdings of all of the major Beckett depositories, and is thus able to highlight neglected manuscripts and correct occasional errors in their listings. Intended as a resource to accompany the reading of Beckett's writing -- in English or French, published or unpublished, in part or as a whole -- the book offers context, information, and interpretation of the work of one of the last century's most important writers.

Palgrave Advances in Samuel Beckett Studies

Lois Oppenheim, editor.

Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, ISBN 1403903530; Hardcover $34.95. [Browse/Purchase]

This volume, which collects essays from such writers as Linda Ben-Zvi, Mary Bryden, S. E. Gontarski, and David Pattie, offers an interdisciplinary overview of Beckett scholarship. Its twelve essays (with Oppenheim’s introduction we achieve thirteen, an appropriate number) survey the histories and new directions of feminist, poststructuralist, biographical, religious, psychoanalytical, and performative readings of Beckett. The interdisciplinarity here is circumscribed, however, to remain within the bounds of critical, largely textual discourse: there are, unfortunately, no studies of Beckett’s musicality or his influence upon music, for example, and some of the labelled “-ist” readings (academically speaking, the usual suspects) seem a little weary. For instance, Angela Moorjani’s contribution on “Beckett and Psychoanalysis” begins in the past tense and stays there: while the chapter offers clear summaries of the various Freudian and Lacanian lights by which Not I and Murphy have been read as well as the discussions surrounding Beckett’s relationship with Wilfred Bion, there is little by way of extra oomph, no suggestion of challenges ahead or reasons why or how one might want to bring psychoanalysis to bear on Beckett now. On the other hand, H. Porter Abbott’s chapter on “Narrative” adopts a refreshing, immediate tone and opens up questions. Discussing narrative gaps, Abbott asks: “Is it possible, then, not to fill narrative gaps? Can you cognize a gap without filling it? And what would it feel like, if you could?” Excellent questions. They lead Abbott to suggest that to “know nothing” can be a very polymorphously perverse scenario.
The quality of the respective avenues of critical “overviews” differs a little here and there. Anna McMullan’s nuts-and-bolts take on postcolonial readings of Beckett is very solid and deliberately useful (she writes: “If placing Beckett’s oeuvre within the frames of Irish and Postcolonial studies troubles their boundaries, to place him [sic, and intriguingly sic at that] outside those frames would equally be a kind of blinkering”), while Katharine Worth’s “Sources of Attraction to Beckett’s Theater,” though engaging, is largely a review of the Beckett film project, and seems a little out of place in this collection.
The bibliography to this book alone is worth having, though it is not without its mistakes (for example, the URL of this Web site is completely wrong). Place this book beside Ruby Cohn’s A Beckett Canon on your shelf and you’ll have a decent two-volume history of Beckett’s works and their critical reception. (TC)

Go To:

Criticism Main Page -- Returns you to the Main Criticism page and the Quick Reference Card of titles.

Biography -- Beckett's life and times, as well as letters, conversations, and anecdotes.

Prose -- Guides and criticism for specific works of prose, critique, and poetry.

Drama -- Guides and criticism for specific dramatic works and stage pieces.

Specific Criticism -- Beckett criticism with a specific angle: existential, psychological, religious, nationalist, feminist, etc.

Theatre & the Arts -- Criticism and biography relating to Beckett in performance and non-print media.

Comparative -- Studies of Beckett in context with other authors or artists.

--Tim Conley
& Allen B. Ruch
29 January 2006

"Damn the mail" -- Send email to Apmonia's Tim Conley and the Great Quail -- comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!