Samuel Beckett's Doodles

Artist Bill Prosser on the sketches that fill Beckett's manuscripts
Doodles from the 'Watt' notebooks by Samuel Beckett. Copyright © 2009 by the Estate of Samuel Beckett.
In the Fall 2009 issue of the Ransom Edition, Bill Prosser writes on the sketches and doodles that pepper Samuel Beckett's manuscripts:
Although popularly thought of as a rather dour and ascetic writer, there is a wonderfully playful aspect to Samuel Beckett's creative output: the pictorial array of raggle-taggle characters and baroque broidery that scampers through his notebooks and manuscripts. Continuously—from decorating 1930s exercise books to embellishing the scraps of paper bearing his 1970s "Mirlitonnades"—doodling provided an amiable outlet when, yet again, he found himself up against the obduracy of words.

Beckett's interest in the visual arts is well known. During his exhaustive travels around Germany in the 1930s he kept notes detailing his responses to the Old Master and more modern paintings that he had seen. More communally, throughout his life he formed close friendships with a number of artists, including Jack B. Yeats, Bram Van Velde, Henri Hayden, and Avigdor Arikha. However, his appreciation of fine art seems to have had no discernibly direct effect on his own spontaneous drawings, which repeatedly appear to have earthier, and more mixed, antecedents.

Although Caspar David Friedrich's Two Men Contemplating the Moon may have given rise to the setting for Waiting For Godot, Beckett also warmed to music hall routines and the silent cinema. He once wrote to Sergei Eisenstein asking for a job, and one of his favorite comedians, Buster Keaton, appeared as the central character in his 1964 film, Film. He enjoyed the German cabaret comic Karl Valentin, and borrowed the Marx Brothers' "three hats for two heads" muddle to use in Godot. This varied visual diet gave him an ingested feeling for caricature that flourished as absent-minded glosses to his written texts. [Read More]