Université Paris VII
This article proposes to examine how the depiction of Ireland found in Beckett's work changed when he decided to write in French. The rift which this decision seems to imply is deceptive as Beckett's self-imposed linguistic exile was far from being a definitive break with Ireland. On the contrary, with the decision to write in French, Ireland came to occupy a privileged position in his work, a position which it was, in fact, very far from occupying in the early fiction written in English and set in Ireland : linguistic exile as separation, to achieve continuity.
Samuel Beckett's fame dates from and is largely due to his 1952 play En attendant Godot, written in French and translated by the author into English three years later. His prose texts, also mostly written in French, made Beckett into a leading figure of the Nouveau Roman literary movement, resolutely located in France. Beckett's lifelong career as self-translator causes obvious dilemmas to scholars : do we study Beckett as a French author or as an Anglo-Irish one ? What is the status of the translated second versions, be they in English or in French ? More concretely, librarians the world over have to decide where to put the works on the shelves and in the catalogue. It is interesting to note that all of Beckett's works in both languages (not only the stage plays, the television plays and the radio plays, but also the novels, short stories, poems and criticism) are to be found in the university libraries of his city of origin under the class mark 842 (French theatre in the Dewey classification system). While it is only a little surprising to find En attendant Godot in this category, it is more surprising to find the two early prose texts Dream of Fair to Middling Women and More Pricks than Kicks and the late piece Worstward Ho, written in English by Beckett and never translated by him into French, also classified as French theatre.
This classification poses real questions about Beckett's work and about Beckett's status as Irish writer in exile. Beckett's flight from Ireland has been well documented as has his decision to write the majority of his texts in the French language. But despite these two decisions, to occult texts as Irish as Dream of Fair to Middling Women or Murphy from the Irish literary canon seems a decision which prolongs and exaggerates unduly Beckett's chosen geographical and linguistic exile. One has to wonder where Beckett's Ireland has got to. Did the decision to write in French remove all trace of his native land ? And did this not resurface in the constant self-translation of the works from French into an often distinctly Irish form of English ? In short, was Beckett's exile from Ireland as complete as the number 842 on the spines of his books in the libraries leads one to think ?
Beckett's first two novels, both written in English, are situated at least in part in Ireland, although neither of them were written there. The action of Dream of Fair to Middling Women is concentrated in Ireland, with occasional episodes set on the European continent, Murphy has scenes in Dublin, Cork and London. These two novels are visibly inspired by Joyce, whom Beckett had met in Paris, both in terms of the innovative use of language and also in the extremely negative terms used to describe Ireland in general, and Dublin in particular. Beckett pours into these novels all the hatred for what he saw as a small-minded, Catholic country and city. The most mordant passage includes the creation of the Franco-Irish neologism "merdific", no existing word in English seeming capable of containing all the contempt of this invention :
Other adjectives used are, for Dublin, "marshy"(D, 111), "black" (D, 159), "stenching" (D, 177), and for Ireland "festering" (D, 197). The only positive remarks are, in the closing pages, a homage to Irish weather, its constant mist having the advantage of blocking out the view of the landscape which lies behind it.
Dream did not meet with the approval of the publishers to whom it was submitted and Beckett decided to rework parts of the text, hoping that the resulting collection of short stories would be more successful. Unlike Dream, More Pricks Than Kicks was composed during one of Beckett's stays in Ireland and it is interesting to note that many of the more vehement passages were suppressed during the rewriting process. It is extremely unlikely that any of these suppressions were motivated by the desire to see the book published in Ireland. During this stay Beckett may have undertaken the long walks in the Dublin hills which he loved. A certain reconciliation with Ireland may have been the cause of the suppressions of the cruelest passages. Some of these are even replaced by almost loving descriptions of the beauty of the Irish countryside, even if this does suffer from comparison with the landscapes seen by Beckett during his stays in continental Europe. The description of Wicklow town is still harsh : "When it's a magic land like Saône-et-Loire [..] a champaign land for the sad and serious, not a bloody little kindergarten like Wicklow" (MK, 24). But the Leopardstown racecourse comes closer to Beckett's new European standards : "To stroll over this expanse in fine weather, these acres of bright green grass, was almost as good as to cross the race-course of Chantilly" (MK, 101). The "almost" is telling, but in another scene, "in the valley a plantation of larches" between the Dublin hills had "nearly brought tears to the eyes of Belacqua" (MK, 95). There had been no such praise for the same landscapes which had been described as "dull" (D, 143) in Dream. It seems on this evidence, that the further Beckett was from Ireland, the less it seemed like a lost paradise. It is this tendency which was to be reversed when he moved permanently to France and began writing in French. Two more novels were written before then.
Beckett wrote Murphy (a novel with an Irish name if ever there was one) in London in 1936. The remarks in this novel are less scathing than in Beckett's first, at least in the original English. Celia, the novel's eponymous protagonist's beloved, thinks back to her early days in Ireland with a certain nostalgia, "The sky, cool, bright, full of movement, anointed her eyes, reminded her of Ireland" (M, 27). Two other characters end the novel with one desire only :
This "dear land" is none other than Ireland. However, when Beckett translated Murphy into French, he subtly transformed some of his jibes to make them specifically directed at all that he detested in Irish society. In the original English version, the narrator says "This phrase is chosen with care, lest the filthy censors should lack an occasion to commit their filthy synecdoche" (M, 47), and "The above passage is carefully calculated to deprave the cultivated reader" (M, 69). While these two sentences have nothing particularly anti-Irish about them, the translation into French is revealing, in that it suggests that such caution was only necessary in the Irish literary context, as twice Beckett adds the comment "lors de la rédaction en anglo-irlandais" (My, 60 and 89). But even in the Anglo-Irish version such comments were not entirely absent as one of the characters remarks, on his departure from Ireland that, "It is always pleasant to leave this country" (M, 97).
Beckett was to write one more full length novel in English before he opted for French as his creative tongue. This strange novel, Watt, written during the war when Beckett was obliged to take refuge in Roussillon, comes closer to the sort of writing for which Beckett is remembered, and all referentiality, and in particular the scathing remarks about Ireland have almost completely disappeared. One telling comment is, however, found in the Addenda : "for all the good that frequent departures out of Ireland had done him, he might just as well have stayed there" (W, 249). This remark suggests that Beckett's literary creation, as long as he continued to write in English, would remain in the same vein as all his previous productions, notably heavily laden with disagreeable remarks about his native land. It was only with the shift to French that these would completely disappear.
Immediately after the war, Beckett started writing in French. During the most productive period of his writing career he wrote a novel, which remained unpublished until 1970, Mercier et Camier, four short stories, and finally, the trilogy of novels, Molloy, Malone meurt and L'Innommable, and the play which made his name. With these texts, the page which Watt had begun turning, between the early writings which were undeniably Irish in language and often in situation, and the emergence of the Nobel prize winning novelist and "French playwright" Beckett was to become, was definitively turned. Beckett's style in French was bare, basic, simple and the geographical location of the action (or, more often, inaction) was as universal as the stage directions at the beginning of Beckett's first two plays leads to imagine. Waiting for Godot takes place on a very anonymous "country road" (11), Endgame in an equally universal "bare interior" (92).
It has been convincingly argued that the countryside through which Beckett's outcasts wander, and more particularly the weather conditions encountered during these wanderings (uniformly rainy) are Irish. For a long period, Beckett's character names were also distinctly Irish sounding (Molloy, Moran, Malone, Macmann) and the imaginary cities which they approached were obviously Irish in a uniquely Beckettian way (Bally, Ballyba, Ballybaba), but the remarks which had peppered the previous works and which were extremely and explicitly critical of Ireland and Dublin have almost completely disappeared. It is as if Beckett could only stop criticising Ireland by putting a greater and greater distance between himself and his country, and what greater distance for a writer than to abandon the language of that country ?
With the decision to write in French not only did the scathing remarks about Ireland disappear, but they were in fact gradually replaced by remarks about Ireland of a very different nature. The greater distance provided by composition in a foreign language may have made Beckett realise just what exile meant. Towards the end of The Unnamable, the speaker describes such a realisation, when he says in the French version "je me voulais moi, je voulais mon pays, je me voulais dans mon pays, un petit moment, je ne voulais pas mourir en étranger" (I, 183). In the English translation, which is in a way a realisation of this wish, Beckett did not feel the need to translate "je voulais mon pays", but contented himself with saying : "I wanted myself, in my own land for a brief space" (T, 400). If Beckett realised that he wanted his land, he made this realisation in French, and literally concretised it by translating himself "back" into English. Far from constituting a definitive separation from Ireland, the decision to write in French, completing linguistically an exile which was already geographically accomplished, helped Beckett create a continuity in his writing which, particularly in his dramatic texts brought him back closer to his compatriots, Synge and O'Casey, who both wrote a quintessentially Irish theatre.
The return to English as original language of creation occurred in 1956, and this was also an excursion into a new genre, with the writing of his first radio play for the BBC, All That Fall. While this play is recognisably Beckettian, it is markedly more referential than Godot or Endgame and the language and the landscape are undeniably Irish. Maddie Rooney (yet another Irish surname) goes to meet her husband Dan at the train station of Boghill, an imaginary, but definitely Irish country village. This Irish vein was one which Beckett would never entirely abandon in his dramatic writing. His next play, Krapp's Last Tape, was written in English in 1958. In the old tape Krapp listens to, the young Krapp mentions an "Old Miss McGlome" (218) from Connaught. The last tape made by the old Krapp reminisces on some of his happier memories, including walks "on Croghan on a Sunday morning" (223).
These often explicitly autobiographical references to Irish memories are not what is usually remembered of Beckett's plays which are more often remembered for their evolution "beyond minimalism" as one critic has put it. However, even as some of Beckett's later plays progress towards a visual no man's land, Ireland creeps again and again into the texts. These Irish references are usually autobiographical and the tone often nostalgic. The speaking female character in Not I is, on stage, no more than a mouth suspended "upstage audience right, about 8 feet above stage level" (376), pouring out memories. One of the least traumatising of these memories includes a mention of a part of Leopardstown racecourse, near Beckett's Dublin home, Croker's Acres (380). The speaking male character in That Time, a play which Beckett called a brother to Not I, twice mentions a Foley's Folly (389 and 394), which if it is not directly identifiable autobiographically, is distinctly Irish. The same character remembers taking the train Beckett used to take in Dublin, the Great Southern and Eastern (391).
Beckett's plays, for the most part written in English, often let in a certain Irishness which had been absent from his writing since the 40s and the decision to write in French. But his prose, usually originally written in French, remained geographically unidentifiable and of an abstraction which seems to preclude autobiographical reference. In 1977 Beckett did write one long prose text first in English, Company, which is quite different to the French prose of the same period. Interestingly this text is crammed with autobiographical detail, much of which is grounded in Dublin and its surrounding countryside. The narrator remembers coming out of "Connolly's Stores" (C, 12) with his mother. It is also interesting that in a writing which was to be renowned for its abstraction and detachment from reality, this text adds Irish details in a deliberate effort to ground it concretely in some place which may be called "home": "Nowhere in particular on the way from A to Z. Or say for verisimilitude the Ballyogan Road. That dear old back road" (C, 30).
In the short space of this article, it has been impossible to mention many of the Irish details of Beckett's texts, both in prose and for the theatre. But from the examples chosen, it does seem that the decision to write in French, while constituting an unprecedented separation from Ireland, a veritable exile, was in fact, the sign of what would become a much more harmonious relationship with Ireland than that which had been visible in the early texts, which, at a first glance, appear much more Irish that the later ones. Beckett's break with Ireland as it was manifested through the break with English was not a change of direction. It was in fact a U-turn which would permit him to write much less as a French dramatist than as a genuinely Irish writer: an Irish writer in exile, like so many of his compatriots, for whom exile was the only way to keep Ireland forever alive in his works, wherever he wrote them.
 For all biographical details see James Knowlson's biography Damned to Fame : The Life of Samuel Beckett.
 Interestingly, all of Beckett's works are classified as French theatre when only four of his thirty theatrical texts were originally written in this language - En attendant Godot (1952), Fin de partie (1957), Cascando (1962) and Catastrophe (1982). In fact, after the first burst into French, not only did Beckett continue to translate from French into English, he also continued what almost looks like two parallel writing careers : one as an Anglo-Irish playwright (who translated his plays into French) and the other as a French novelist (who translated his prose into English). There are obvious exceptions to this dichotomy, such as the plays mentioned above and late prose texts such as Company (1977) and Worstward Ho (1982).
 In fact, Beckett's stays in Ireland were usually frustrating and unproductive. With the exception of More Pricks Than Kicks, all of his English language novels prior to the decision to adopt French were written while he was abroad : Dream of Fair to Middling Women in Paris in 1932, Murphy in London in 1936 and Watt in Roussillon in 1944.
 See bibliography for abbreviations for the prose works.
 Its title alone was enough for the book to fall under the axe of Irish censorship, censorship harshly criticised by Beckett in a piece ironically entitled "Censorship in the Saorstat". The title is ironic because the "Saorstat" was the official name of the Irish Free State which had been declared in 1922 and where artistic freedom was still limited. Beckett's article is extremely scathing in its description of the Censorship Act passed on 16 July 1929. This article appears in Samuel Beckett, Disjecta : Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment.
 At the outbreak of the war Beckett was in Ireland, but he promptly returned to France, claiming that he preferred France in war to Ireland in peace. He stayed in Paris until the betrayal of the Resistance group of which he was part forced his flight to Southern France.
 Page references to Beckett's plays refer to The Complete Dramatic Works, London, Faber and Faber, 1986.
 Enoch Brater in his Beyond minimalism : Beckett's Late Style in the Theater, New York, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Beckett, Samuel. Company. London: Calder Publications, 1959 (Abbreviation used, C).
---. Complete Dramatic Works. London: Calder Publications, 1986.
---. Disjecta : Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment, edited by Ruby Cohn (Ed.). New York: Grove Press, 1984.
---. Dream of Fair to Middling Women. London: Calder Publications, 1993 (Abbreviation used, D).
---. L'Innommable. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1953 (Abbreviation used, I).
---. More Pricks Than Kicks. New York: Grove Press, 1972 (Abbreviation used, MK).
---. Murphy. London: Calder Publications, 1938 (Abbreviation used, M).
---. Murphy. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1965 (Abbreviation used, My).
---. Trilogy : Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. London: Calder Publications, 1959 (Abbreviation used, T).
---. Watt. London: Calder Publications, 1953 (Abbreviation used, W).
Brater, Enoch. Beyond Minimalism : Beckett's Late Style in the Theater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame : The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Touchstone, 1997.
Helen Astbury is currently writing a PhD dissertation entitled 'La Trilogie de Beckett à l'entre-deux' at Université Paris VII - Denis Diderot. She has recently published an article entitled 'Vérité française, vérité anglaise? Les infintifs de la trilogie' in Cahiers de Théorie Littéraire, no. 1, mai 2000, pp. 16-20. Forthcoming articles include 'How to do things with syntax: Beckett's Binary Turned Sentences in French and their Translation into English' in Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui, no. 11, 2001, and 'Beckett et la langue maternelle' in Cahiers de Théorie Littéraire, no. 2, mai 2001.