by Máire Ní Chonalláin, Assistant Keeper II
The Samuel Beckett Collection which belonged to the author’s London bookseller friend, Alan Clodd, has been catalogued. We were fortunate enough to acquire this collection in 2006. The private collection of the Nobel prize-winner’s work is highly regarded as it contains virtually all of Beckett’s works in first edition form, along with proof copies and galley proofs – a real treasure trove for those seeking to understand Beckett. Although inscribed copies of Beckett’s works are rare, he signed bagfuls of books which Clodd took with him on his visits to see Beckett in Paris.
It was Alan Clodd’s wish that this collection remain a unit – and preferably in Ireland. Clodd’s family ran a shop in Blackrock in Dublin just a few miles from the Foxrock birthplace of Samuel Beckett. As well as working as a bookseller in London, Clodd founded the Enitharmon Press in 1967, one of the most distinctive of English private presses, which he was to run single-handedly until his retirement.
There are approximately 800 items in the collection, many of them first editions of the works of the Dublin writer, Samuel Beckett. The books are mainly his own original works, as opposed to critical works about his works. They include short magazine articles and compositions by the author in periodicals such as transition and Les Temps Modernes, as well as Critique and Les Lettres Nouvelles. There are many duplicates in the collection. The main publishing house to publish Beckett was ‘Les Éditions de Minuit’ and Clodd would collect practically all possible variations in paper, print and binding, many of them limited editions, numbered copies and ‘hors commerce’ – not for sale.
The vast majority of the collection was in great condition when we received it, as good as new, with the occasional item on brittle paper, and these were mainly the periodical items. Much of the collection by the French printing houses was uncut, as has been the custom with a lot of European-published books. The decision was taken to cut them using best conservation practice, so that, should they be called for in our Reading Room, they would be ready to read. An interesting feature of the collection is that there were occasional insertions or inclusions in the books, mostly review slips, advertisement flyers and that sort of thing. These are housed separately now, in mylar sheets, and with the call number of the item they came from noted. (The illustrations accompanying this post give a flavour of these insertions.)
Les Éditions de Minuit published most of Beckett’s books in paperback form although when he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1969, they brought out special hardback editions of some of his works, with lovely cream cloth covers. Calder & Boyars were his main London publishers of the English translations of his works, while Grove Press in New York looked after the American end of things. They were more likely to produce items in hardback.
It is sometimes forgotten that Beckett was not only a playwright, but a novelist, a prose writer and a poet as well, to credit him with his full repertoire. Some of his plays were written for radio. Much of his writing refers to his early life in Dublin and the many associations he had with his native home town and experiences he had there. He was obviously very perceptive in his insights into people, with a great sense of humour which he conveyed in his writing. Beckett maintained friendships with Irish people living in Paris, notably Joyce and Thomas McGreevy. All the writers seemed to be connected in Paris at that time and they would congregate in the cafés on the boulevards to discuss the latest new forms of writing, among other things. Beckett frequented the theatre also, in Dublin and in Paris.
Samuel Beckett was educated at Portora Royal School, a Church of Ireland boarding school in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, which also educated many other prominent people in the literary sphere in Ireland, including Oscar Wilde. Beckett won several prizes for scripture and for athletics while at school, and then went on to study Modern Languages at Trinity College Dublin, where he obtained a first class degree. He was for a short time a lecturer in the French Department in Trinity, but this didn’t really suit him and he moved to Paris shortly after that, continuing to lecture for a time at the École Normale Supérieure, and beginning to write for a living. During World War II, he was part of the French Résistance, earning a medal for his work. It was after his experiences of the hardships of war that he really got going on his writing.
There is another Beckett connection with us here at the National Library of Ireland. William Beckett, Samuel’s grandfather, was a building contractor whose firm J. & W. Beckett of South King Street, was awarded the contract for building the National Library (and the National Museum). It is therefore entirely appropriate and fitting that Samuel Beckett’s works should be housed in safekeeping for many generations to come within the walls of a building which his grandfather helped to build.