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Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett standing in a field wearing a suit.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, who lived in France for most of his adult life. Writing in English and French, Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1969, “for his writing, which – in new forms for the novel and drama – in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation.”

Beckett graduated from Dublin’s Trinity College in 1927 and settled in Paris, where he worked with James Joyce and published short stories and the novel Murphy (1938). During World War II, Beckett joined the French Resistance and was eventually forced to leave Paris, but returned after the war and wrote most of his important works, including Godot, the prose trilogy Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (Malone Meurt, 1951), The Unnamable (L’Innommable, 1953), and the play Endgame (Fin de Partie, 1957).

A manuscript with notes of Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt

Beckett’s best-known play, En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) (1953), is a comic study of philosophical uncertainty; like much of his work, it focuses on the absurdity of human existence. Samuel Beckett is widely recognized as one of the most important European writers of the 20th-century. Beckett is praised for his influence on modern literature and his ability to impress, shock, and confound.

Modern Literature Collection's 50th Anniversary Digital Exhibit

See digitized materials from the Samuel Beckett Collection.

Samuel Beckett Playlist

Modern Literature Collection’s YouTube channel playlist with excerpts from “Beckett Directs Beckett” and “All That Fall.”

Samuel Beckett Papers

This collection’s strengths are in manuscripts of works Beckett wrote during the 1960s. Among the highlights are the set of 16 drafts for the story “Bing,” as well as extensive groups of drafts for short pose pieces such as “Assez,” “Le Depeupler,” and “Imagination morte imaginez;” the heavily revised galley proof of the Olympia Press edition of the novel Watt; and the successive drafts for Play/Comedie. Also, the Beckett Papers contain the correspondence between the bookseller, Henry Wenning, and Beckett, which spans 1960-1971, some photographs and illustrations of Beckett, many of Beckett’s notebooks, and photocopies of Beckett manuscripts from the University of Reading.

Explore Related Collections

  • Samuel Beckett Ephemera Collection | Nine playbills and one poster relating to productions of Samuel Beckett’s plays. More ephemera and posters are cataloged separately.
  • Samuel Beckett Posters Collection | Ten posters relating to productions of Samuel Beckett’s plays or celebrations. Located in oversize. More posters are cataloged separately.
  • Rick Cluchey Collection of Waiting for Godot Materials | Consists of three items: Waiting for Godot prompt book used for the landmark 1975 Berlin production at the Schiller-Theater that Beckett himself directed; Waiting for Godot prompt book directly reflecting the significant, Beckett-generated emendations the author made to the 1975 version; and a program for the 1965 production of Waiting for Godot at the Schiller-Theater.
  • Ruby Cohn Papers | Consists largely of manuscripts toward published and unpublished essays and lectures on Samuel Beckett by Cohn, one of the first major Beckett scholars.
  • Raymond Federman Papers | Another important early Beckett scholar and an avant-garde writer in his own right (see his author listing in this guide), this large archive contains extensive research and scholarly materials on Beckett.


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