Thursday, April 13, 2006

Birth was the death of him

"I was born on Friday the thirteenth, and Good Friday, too. My father had been waiting all day for my arrival. At eight p.m. he went out for a walk, and when he returned, I had been born."

Samuel Beckett, letter to George Reavey, 1972.

"He was a pale, sickly baby, long and thin, crying constantly, decidedly different from his robust and placid older brother. He gave his family some concern during his first weeks of life, but was never in any serious danger."

Deirdre Bair, Beckett, 1978


"There has been a lot of debate as to whether this was or was not the true date of his birth. His birth certificate records the date as the thirteenth of May, not April. And his father registered the event on June 14 - a month later, it is argued, than he would, or at least should, have done, if the birth had been in April. So it has been claimed that Beckett deliberately created the myth that he was born on Friday the thirteenth - and a Good Friday at that; a fitting date for someone so conscious of the Easter story and so aware of life as a painful Passion.


More interesting, and far more revealing, is how Beckett spoke about his birth. He claimed to have clear prenatal memories of life within his mother's womb. The womb is commonly thought of as a sheltered haven, where the fetus is protected from harm. Occasionally, that is how it is reflected in Beckett's writing; in the poem 'Sanies I', for instance, which looks back to his birth, he writes nostalgically, "ah to be back in the caul now with no trusts / no fingers no spoilt love." Yet the memories that, as an adult, he claimed to have of the womb, deriving probably from the period shortly before birth, were associated more often with feelings of being trapped and unable to escape, imprisoned and in pain."

James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, 1996.

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