Synopses & Reviews
A chance meeting in the University of North Carolina campus library in 1944 began a decades-long friendship and sixty-year correspondence. Donald Justice (1925and#8211;2004) and Richard Stern (1928and#8211;2013) would go on to become, respectively, the Pulitzer Prizeand#8211;winning poet and the acclaimed novelist. A Critical Friendship
showcases a selection of theirand#160;letters andand#160;postcards from the first fifteen years of their correspondence, representing the formative period in both writersand#8217; careers. It includes some of Justiceand#8217;s unpublished poetry and early drafts of later published poems as well as some early, never-before-published poetry by Stern.
A Critical Friendship is the story of two writers inventing themselves, beginning with the earliest extant letters and ending with those just following their first major publications, Justiceand#8217;s poetry collection The Summer Anniversaries and Sternand#8217;s novel Golk. These letters highlight their willingness to give and take criticism and document the birth of two distinct and important American literary lives. The letters similarly document the influence of teachers, friends, and contemporaries, including Saul Bellow, John Berryman, Edgar Bowers, Robert Lowell, Norman Mailer, Allen Tate, Peter Hillsman Taylor, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and Yvor Winters, all of whom feature in the pair's conversations. In a broader context, their correspondence sheds light on the development of the mid-twentieth-century American literary scene.
"Shuffled among publishers for too long, the selected letters of the great Irish novelist and playwright Beckett (1906-1989) are finally here, the first in a projected four-volume set. Beckett, known for his love of silence and texts that attenuated to nearly nothing, was a veritable letter-writing machine, though only his letters to director Alan Schneider have been previously collected; this project may well represent the last great corpus of typed and handwritten correspondence from a literary giant. Beginning with two letters from the then-unpublished 23-year-old to James Joyce (helping the master with some Greek translations), and ending with a short note describing a Bram Van Velde painting seen just before the Nazis took Paris, Beckett struggles valiantly, endlessly, to find himself (included is a 1936 request for admission to the Moscow State School of Cinematography). There's much to discover, including Beckett's relations with forgotten Irish poet Thomas McGreevy and some explicit shop talk, including a 1937 letter to Axel Kaun in which he outlines his ambition: 'to drill one hole after another into the English language until that which lurks behind, be it something or nothing, starts seeping through.' Accompanied by smart, exhaustive notes, chronologies and solid bios of all correspondents, this collection will no doubt deepen Beckett scholarship, as well as fans' appreciation." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The prospect of reading Beckett’s letters quickens the blood like none other’s, and one must hope to stay alive until the fourth volume is safely delivered." Tom Stoppard
"Knowing as we do that Samuel Beckett is the only writer who can sum up the agonies and ecstasies of the twentieth century, if we had any doubts as to his relevance today, they would be dispelled by the amazing treasure trove contained in his letters at last we are made privy to the full range of his passion for art and beauty, which is neither naïve nor sentimental, to the pyrotechnics of his savage wit, and more lastingly perhaps, to his deep humanity." Jean-Michel Rabaté, Vartan Gregorian Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania
"Reading this collection, one is continually amazed by Beckett's mind....This is a great book; simply priceless." The Sunday Business Post (UK)
"There are many moments in these letters when it seems Samuel Beckett can't go on. But as we await Volumes 2, 3 and 4 of his busy correspondence, it’s exceedingly clear that, happily, he will go on." The New York Times
"Tom Stoppard is quoted on the back cover saying 'one must hope to stay alive until the fourth volume is safely delivered'. Agreed we must wait on for the later, greater Beckett." The Irish Times
"The editorial work behind [The Letters of Samuel Beckett
] has been immense in scale....[The] standard of the commentary is of the highest." J. M. Coetzee, New York Review of Books
(read the entire Powells.com review
The letters written by Samuel Beckett between 1929 and 1940 provide a vivid and personal view of Western Europe in the 1930s, and mark the gradual emergence of Beckett’s unique voice and sensibility. The Cambridge University Press edition of The Letters of Samuel Beckett
offers for the first time a comprehensive range of letters of one of the greatest literary figures of the twentieth century. Selected for their bearing on his work from over 15,000 extant letters, the letters published in this four-volume edition encompass sixty years of Beckett's writing life (1929-1989), and include letters to friends, painters and musicians, as well as to students, publishers, translators, and colleagues in the world of literature and theatre. For anyone interested in twentieth-century literature and theatre this edition is essential reading, offering not only a record of Beckett's achievements but a powerful literary experience in itself.
- The only authorised publication of Beckett’s selected letters
- The most important new contribution to Beckett scholarship for decades, making his letters accessible to scholars for the first time
- Includes chronologies, explanatory notes, profiles of correspondents, manuscript descriptions and index
This authorized edition with full scholarly apparatus will be welcomed by all scholars of modern literature and drama.
About the Author
Elizabeth Murphy is an independent scholar, freelance editor, poet, and cofounder and editor of The Straddler,
a journal of arts, politics, and culture.