In Molloy, begun in 1947, the equation is altered somewhat: old Molloy lies in what was his mother’s room, has his food brought to him and his chamberpot removed, but once a week someone comes and takes away a few pages of writing. Throughout his life and frequently in his letters, Beckett refers to his writing as excretion.
'I have this frantic urge to fix up for myself a situation that is literally impossible.’ Beckett frequently stated loathing of his own writing – each work declared nauseous almost as soon as it is finished, whoever he is writing to and often apropos of nothing – is perhaps partly due to his awareness that however hard he tries to achieve this relation-free form of art, his writing is always very much both about the world and, above all, about himself. ‘Shall I be incapable, to the end,’ Malone complains, ‘of lying on any other subject?’
Talking of his partner, ‘Suzanne earns a little money with her dressmaking. That is what we are living on at present … it’s a quiet and meagre life. With no friends, with only work to give it meaning, meanwhile I type and type knowing I am typing for rejection and I write in French as it encourages my impulsiveness
What he dreads above all, in the very unlikely event of his receiving a prize, is the publicity which would then be directed, not only at his name and his work, but at the man himself. He judges, rightly or wrongly, that it is impossible for the prizewinner, without serious discourtesy, to refuse to go in for the posturings required by these occasions: warm words for his supporters, interviews, photos, etc etc. And as he feels wholly incapable of this sort of behaviour, he prefers not to expose himself to the risk of being forced into it by entering the competition.
‘If he could stay in his corner … fear of the other side’. Is this a boxing metaphor? Beckett had been a good boxer in his youth. What exactly is feared here: the opponent, or being in the position of the opponent?
Beckett will not hear of being interviewed, whether orally or in writing. I fear that on this he is not to be budged. He gives his work, his role stops there. He cannot talk about it.’ There is no assumption here of a high ground or aesthetic purity on Beckett’s part; rather he is setting out the rules of a relationship: ‘son rôle s’arrête là.’ Indeed he ‘is really sorry for the extent to which this intransigence may be unhelpful and awkward for you as publisher’. The paragraph ends with a clarification that is also an imperative: ‘One must take him as he is.’
In Murphy the eponymous unemployed hero lounges blindfold on his rocking chair, philosophising, while his girlfriend is expected to pay for everything and obliged to prostitute herself to do so.
First Love, written in French in 1946, strips away realism to make the asymmetry grotesque. Sleeping in a park, the narrator is picked up by a woman who takes him to her flat. There is sex. The narrator, however, then barricades himself in a bedroom, insisting that his beloved bring him food, take away his chamberpot and expect nothing else from him.
Needless to say, this one-sided situation is not sustainable and eventually he is thrown out.
In Molloy, begun in 1947, the equation is altered somewhat: old Molloy lies in what was his mother’s room, has his food brought to him and his chamberpot removed, but once a week someone comes and takes away a few pages of writing. Throughout his life and frequently in these letters, Beckett refers to his writing as excretion.
Beckett lectured for only four terms before resigning his post – he couldn’t face a classroom – and thus declared himself free from parental expectation while ensuring that he would remain financially dependent on those he had disappointed. Like Murphy or the hero of First Love, Beckett needed to be his own man, but he also needed to be looked after.
The impasse continued, he developed a number of physical symptoms – boils, anal cysts, pelvic pains, tachycardia, panic attacks (they feature prominently in the early letters
For years I was unhappy, consciously & deliberately … so that I isolated myself more & more, undertook less & less & lent myself to a crescendo of disparagement of others & myself … The misery & solitude & apathy & the sneers were the elements of an index of superiority & guaranteed the feeling of arrogant ‘otherness’ … It was not until that way of living, or rather negation of living, developed such terrifying physical symptoms that it could no longer be pursued that I became aware of anything morbid in myself. In short, if the heart had not put the fear of death into me I would be still boozing & sneering & lounging around & feeling that I was too good for anything else.