When did you first meet Samuel Beckett?

Martha Dow Fehsenfeld
Martha Dow Fehsenfeld

I first met Samuel Beckett in the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1976. It was during the time Billie Whitelaw was performing Footfalls. I knew this was an important technical rehearsal and I was lucky to be there. Sitting with Dougald McMillan (American literary scholar) in the back row of the theatre, I saw that Beckett had turned his head, raised his gaze to recognize that I was out there. He walked up to the last aisle, entered the row, put out his hand to me and said, “I’m Sam Beckett.” No warning. Our first connection. It was during this time Dougald and I were co-editing the publication: Beckett in the Theatre. (1988, John Calder/Riverrun) I had just signed the contract with Dougald and he said something like, “Looks like he’s not coming” but I said,  “Of course he is, its a Technical Rehearsal”! This first encounter was the onset of many meetings Sam and I had from this point on.

One day, much later in the 1980’s, Barney Rosset, Sam’s American publisher phoned me and said, “Are you sitting down?”  I said, “Why, is Sam alright?” as I knew he had been with him that day.  “Sam is going to let his letters be published,”  Barney paused. “Are you still sitting? He has asked that you edit them. What shall I tell him?” I said, “I’ve never been so terrified and excited at the same time in my life.” Sam had originally put Barney in charge of the letters project, making him General Editor. Frankly, Barney never knew what to do with me.

Samuel Beckett in rehearsal. Photograph: John Haynes
Samuel Beckett in rehearsal. Photograph: John Haynes

 

What was Beckett like to work with?

Electric. Without warning. Immediate. Innate politeness. Victorian decorum. Extraordinary. Memorable, I can quote so much about what he said to me even today. I asked Sam at the outset, “Why me to edit the letters? There are many more qualified people than I.” He said, “Rubbish, I picked you because I trust you.” It’s extraordinary because for so long I had a feeling that he really did not like me, not having occasion to have a particular feeling for me one way or the other!

Read the full Q&A at cambridgeblog.org.

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Posted by:Rhys Tranter

Rhys Tranter is a writer and photographer who specialises in twentieth-century and contemporary culture. His writing has appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, and a number of books and periodicals.

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