Joyce and Beckett: Two Roads Out of Dublin
As the saying goes, ôThe English invented the language. It took the Irish to show them how to use it.ö In William Butler Yeats, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw, Ireland provided the 20th century with its predominant poet, novelist and playwright. Samuel Beckett is not less than these talents, and has also had a profound effect on the literature of this century.
It is a peculiar fact, then, that Beckett and Joyce were close friends. Beckett transcribed parts of Finnegan's Wake for Joyce, translated the Anna Livia Plurabelle section of the work into French for him, read to him, and was accepted as part of Joyce's privileged circle of friends. This relationship begs the question: to what extent did they influence each other? The early works of Beckett show a significant Joycean influence, and the mature works of both writers are as far from each other as one might imagine two writers' works could be. Joyce is florid, dense, opaque, working on a massive scale, including all, drawing ever-increasing canvases of the human psyche. Beckett is astringent, clean, removed, thinking on a minimalist scale, constantly reducing human experience to its simplest denominators.
More than direct stylistic influence, then, Joyce helped Beckett to define himself as a writer: to find his identity as an author. The sheer power of Joyce's personality, combined with a huge number of shared influences, drove Beckett into a direction that he was not considering when he first met Joyce.
In Fall, 1928, the 22-year-old Beckett left Dublin for Paris. Having achieved highest honors in Modern Languages at Trinity College, he was leaving to assume a position as a lecteur d'anglais at the Ecole Normale Superieure. At the time, the Ecole was also the center of the Dublin intelligencia, and through Thomas McGreevy, a friend at the Ecole, Beckett was introduced to Joyce in late 1928.
The two established an...