Letters reveal Beckett's anguish over his mother's death

(Left to right) Chris Morash, Helen Shenton and Bernard Meehan at Trinity College library today. Pic: PA

Playwright Samuel Beckett wrote intimately about the death of his mother to life-long friends he met while evading Nazis, a collection opened up to the public for the first time shows.

Some 347 letters and postcards from one of the last century’s most influential writers were sent to French artists Henri and Josette Hayden between 1947 and 1958.

Bought at auction in London for €180,000 earlier this year – half the price paid for them when they were sold to a private buyer eight years ago – they have been opened up by Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

The university now holds the largest collection in the world of letters penned by Dublin-born Beckett, himself a former student and subsequent benefactor to the college.

In his correspondence to the Haydens, he writes in August 1950 about his mother dying, comparing it to the haunting sound of a night train near his country retreat in Ussy, northern France.

“My mother is still declining,” the Nobel laureate confides in his friends.

“It’s like one of those decrescendos made by the trains at Ussy which I used to listen to at night, interminable, suddenly resuming just when everything seemed finished and the silence final.

“I think she will die in hospital in a week or so.”

It is believed the description of his mother’s last days formed a motif that he used again and again in his works, including Rockaby.

The collection also includes many picture postcards, including one of the Cliffs of Moher, in Co Clare.

It is thought Beckett may have communicated with the Haydens – a painter and a designer – partly through images.

The author met the Haydens when they were in hiding from the Nazis in southern France during the Second World War.

As well as covering his mother’s death, the correspondence also spans a time frame that included his brother Frank’s death and his completing of his most famous work Waiting For Godot.

He was also working on all three books of his trilogy Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable during the period.

Helen Shenton, TCD librarian and college archivist, said the latest addition to their Beckett collection was internationally significant for scholars of the Irish writer.

“We have been developing collections of significant Irish creative writers, and these letters build on the existing Beckett collections the library already holds,” she said.

“We welcome the opportunity to be able to share these collections with students of Beckett and researchers across the globe.”

An exhibition of the letters and postcards is taking place in the library’s famous Long Room.


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