596
596
Beckett, Samuel
AN IMPORTANT SERIES OF 347 LETTERS AND POSTCARDS, THE GREAT MAJORITY AUTOGRAPH AND SIGNED ("SAM"), IN FRENCH, TO HIS CLOSE FRIENDS, THE PAINTERS HENRI AND JOSETTE HAYDEN
Estimate
80,000120,000
LOT SOLD. 146,500 GBP
JUMP TO LOT
596
Beckett, Samuel
AN IMPORTANT SERIES OF 347 LETTERS AND POSTCARDS, THE GREAT MAJORITY AUTOGRAPH AND SIGNED ("SAM"), IN FRENCH, TO HIS CLOSE FRIENDS, THE PAINTERS HENRI AND JOSETTE HAYDEN
Estimate
80,000120,000
LOT SOLD. 146,500 GBP
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations

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London

Beckett, Samuel
AN IMPORTANT SERIES OF 347 LETTERS AND POSTCARDS, THE GREAT MAJORITY AUTOGRAPH AND SIGNED ("SAM"), IN FRENCH, TO HIS CLOSE FRIENDS, THE PAINTERS HENRI AND JOSETTE HAYDEN
c.400 pages, 4to and 8vo, with c. 215 autograph envelopes, Paris, Ussy-sur-Marne, Dublin, London, Berlin, Stuttgart and elsewhere, 1947 to 1985, the collection edge-mounted in four folio albums with facing transcriptions and English translations, some letters slightly creased, a few with minor water-damage (no loss), some envelopes torn where opened or with stamps cut away.

the most extensive and important series of letters by Beckett ever to be offered at auction. This collection was consulted by James Knowlson for his biography The Life of Samuel Beckett (1996), in which occasional quotations appear. Otherwise it remains unpublished.

Beckett met the Polish-born French painter Henri Hayden and his wife Josette in 1943, while they were all taking refuge from the Gestapo in the small French village of Roussillon d’Apt in Vichy France. Their long friendship began with their common love of painting. As their relationship deepened the men would often work in close proximity to one another or play long silent games of chess; it has been speculated that Beckett’s relationship with Henri was a source of inspiration for Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. On their return to Paris after the war, the Haydens discovered that their studio had been pillaged by the Germans, with the loss of all Henri’s pre-war paintings. Beckett contributed greatly to the renaissance of Hayden’s reputation, chiefly by helping to arrange exhibitions of his work in Victor Waddington’s Cork Street galleries.

This correspondence is an invaluable account of Beckett’s theatrical career from the first production of Waiting for Godot [En attendant Godot] in Paris in 1952 (“…le Babylone l’annonce, dûment cacographié…”). He writes about early productions of Godot in Berlin, 1953 (“…Mal joué là-bas, mal mis en scène surtout, mais bien reçu. J’aurais préféré le contraire. Tout le monde très gentil…”), the negotiations that preceded the first London production in 1955, including problems with the censor (“...ce con de Lord Chamberlain...”), the failed attempt to cast Alec Guinness, and other difficulties (“…Toutes sortes de complications, difficultés, misères, salauds…Le moyen d’attendre Godot dans ces conditions?…”). In contrast, he writes with early enthusiasm for Alan Schneider, director of the (disastrous) first American production of the play (“…Il a vu la pièce lundi dernier et m’a dit que j’aurai besoin de beaucoup de Whisky ce soir – avant et après. Il va même m’apporter une bouteille de Bourbon! Qui dit mieux!…”).

His continued anxiety and pessimism about his work are evident in his account of the first production of Endgame [Fin de partie] in London in 1957 (“…La pièce marche mieux que le premier soir (pas difficile) mais pas très fort, j’ai l’impression…”), but other letters provide glimpses of the pleasure that Beckett took, for example, in finding how different stage spaces forced him to rethink his staging, and in working with actors to hone a production into shape, as in a 1964 production of Endgame with Jack MacGowran and Pat Magee:

“…En vitesse ce petit mot, dans un pub devant un pot de guinness, entre répétitions. Travail épuisant, matin et après-midi et soir, avec le sentiment de ne pouvoir arriver dans les délais. Des moments de crise cette semaine, même pénibles, mais ça va mieux. Très bon climat de travail et bonne entente avec tout le monde. Je tiens le coup par je ne sais quelle grâce, mais comme cicatrisant ce n’est pas l’idéal…”

Beckett writes of looking forward to working with Magee in New York on Krapp’s Last Tape, discusses Albert Finney as Krapp in 1972 (“...mais à force, à force, peut-être pas trop mal…”) and Brenda Bruce as Winnie in the 1962 English première of Happy Days [Oh les beaux jours] (“...C’était plutôt mal parti – voix et inflexions fausses. Ça va déjà beaucoup mieux. Elle prend maintenant un petit accent écossais – qui lui est d’ailleurs naturel. Elle répond très vite aux indications et travaille beaucoup...”). He writes of revising Play [Comédie] when in rehearsal in London in 1964 (“...L’idée de la chute (dans la reprise) va marcher. J’ai également changé l’ordre des répliques (pour la reprise)…”), of his pleasure at working with Billie Whitelaw on Footfalls, and of his excitement at the filming of Film with Buster Keaton in the summer of 1964:

“…Enormément à faire ou plutôt à surveiller. Incroyable complexité des préparatifs. Tout le monde très chaud pour le film et voulant mettre tout le paquet. On commence à tourner lundi. La chambre est construite. Très bien. Trouvé un mur et un site formidables pour les scènes dans la rue. Vu aucun des acteurs à part l’impénétrable Buster. Schneider travaille comme un fou – avec des assistants dans tous les coins. Tout le monde d’une gentillesse infinie…Keaton est formidable...”

Beckett also writes to Hayden about his writing, from the Trilogy to late works for radio, typically complaining of how difficult he found his work – whether it be translating (“...J’ai enfin terminé la traduction de Happy Days – oh les beaux jours (de bonheur indicible!)..."), correcting proofs, or completing new pieces. A number of letters refer to the London exhibitions of Heyden’s paintings that Beckett helped to arrange: he discusses their progress, sends reviews and catalogues as well as offering his own opinions on Henri’s work (“…Les dernières toiles sont très belles, je me demande si le nuage rouge est revenu…”). Beckett also alludes to other exhibitions and paintings he has seen or bought, mentioning living artists as diverse as Jack Yeats and Salvador Dalí (“…Son dernier projet: faire couper à une très belle femme le nez et une oreille et greffer celle-ci à la place de celui-là et inversement. Il y a des candidates, paraît-il…”)

Most of the postcards (c.100), written whilst on holiday, mostly from destinations in Europe and around the Mediterranean, convey in powerfully succinct phrases Beckett's shifting states of mind away from the seclusion of Ussy and the bustle of Paris, ranging from boredom and frustration to nostalgia and anxiety about his work. In 1962 he writes from Kitzbühel in Austria about being regularly interrupted from his work on Happy Days by an Irish setter desperate to drink from his toilet; from Madeira in the late 1960s he gives an damning report on Funchal (“…Port minable et petite ville confuse, tout en étages, coincée entre les hauteurs et la mer, pas de promenades, pas de plages…”) and writes of his nostalgia for Ireland (“…On fait de longues promenades sur la plage et commençons à explorer le ‘hinterland’, grande sécheresse, cabanes primitives, petits murs de pierres empilées comme en Irlande, vieux moulins à vent ravissants sur les hauteurs…”); whilst from Malta in the 1970s he describes Caravaggio's 'Beheading of John the Baptist', which was to be a source of inspiration for Not I.

There are frequent references to members of Beckett’s family. A group of letters of particular biographical significance are those that describe the declining health of his mother (who died in 1950 from Parkinson’s disease), evoking his exhaustion and sense of hopelessness during his last weeks with her in Ireland: he tries to work without success, goes for his usual long walks, drinks heavily, takes his mother for drives, sees old friends, and attends the funeral of Jack Yeats’ wife Cottie, while his mother’s health declines further:

“…Ma mère baisse toujours, c’est comme l’un de ces decrescendo de train que j’écoutais la nuit á Ussy, interminable, avec des reprises alors que tout semblait fini et le silence définitif…Elle divague la plupart du temps, vit dans un monde de cauchemars et hallucinations. Détresse morale terrible…”

Four years later he is back in Ireland, describing the effect his brother’s terminal illness is having on him and his work (“Ce que me terrorise, c’est l’idée de tomber moi-même malade…Je vais être peut-être acculé à la composition littéraire…”) and commenting on how everyone seems to be dying around him. This last remark is echoed in 1966 after the death of his sister-in-law Jean (“Tout va bien – chez les morts…Pas drôle – ce que c’est devenu, ce qu’on est devenu. Pas triste. Bête...Demain d’autres phantômes…Dernière fois ici”). Also mentioned are his cousin, the musician John Beckett, introduced to the Haydens in a particularly charming letter (“…Ci-joint mon cousin John Beckett…Il n’est pas méchant. Tout cousin qu’il est. Ce n’est que le deuxième. Patience. Puis il y aura les neveux: tous plus artistes les uns que les autres. Je serai mort, je l’espère…”) and his nephew, the flautist Edward Beckett, whose career Beckett had greatly encouraged.

Proof of the depth of Beckett's friendship with the Haydens lies in the range of subjects covered, from the deeply personal to the mundane, and it is often these details, from his grumbles about  gambling losses to his apologises for his handwriting, that provide the most telling insights into Beckett’s personality. He writes of his routines and health, domestic and financial matters, his reluctance or inability at times to work (“…moindre travail futur inconcevable…”), and of a social life that was busier than he would have liked (“…L’enfer sera peut-être une suite sans fin d’engagements…”). Family and friends figure heavily in the letters, as do whiskey (“... Je suis maintenant à la côté de deux bouteilles et demie, dont une âgée de 13 ans!…”), music, chess, and sport – from falling asleep at a cricket match with Harold Hobson to imagining a life of daily rounds of golf. Beckett’s political engagement is also revealed in, for example, his support for Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal (“l’importuné”), who was imprisoned on charges of treason against the Franco government, which went as far as promising to appear as a witness at his trial (“…ça ne fera qu’augmenter la peine…de toute façon tous les témoins de la défense sont récusés…Ça se présente mal pour lui…”).

Beckett’s letters of support to Josette after Henri’s death in 1970 are kind and sensitive but unsentimental. He advises her to avoid Paris and its old associations and encuorages her to find the strength to continue with her life (“…Je pense à lui, le revois tout le long des années. Je ne trouve rien à te dire que ça vaille la peine. Son travail a encore besoin de toi. Accroche-toi à ça…Lis ‘Contre tout Espoir’ de Nadejda Mandelstam…C’est un livre qui donne courage…”). After 1978 the ageing Beckett’s letters become increasingly laconic (“…Promenades. Repos. Tête vide. Je t’embrasse…”) as he tires of his work (“…je n’arrive pas à m’interesser à ce vieux travail comme je le faisais ici même voice 12 ans…”), although he continues to send Josette copies of his works and sends her news from abroad.


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Provenance

Sotheby's, 7 December 2006, lot 95

English Literature, History, Children's Books & Illustrations

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London