Daniela Caselli shares her fascination with Beckett’s writing, and what she sees as the next step for the Society
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I live in England, where I teach at the University of Manchester, working mainly in the fields of modernism and comparative literature. Before moving to Manchester, I did my doctorate at the University of Reading. Still before then, I was an undergraduate in Italy, where I studied Modern Languages in Bologna and Trento, also spending my final year on a scholarship at CUNY Graduate Center in New York. Although I travel quite a lot these days, I still love going back to Italy whenever I can – especially skiing and hiking in the Dolomites, where I grew up.
How did you first encounter Beckett’s work?
My entire career has been shaped by Beckett’s work. As a first year student I took an amazing course on modernism, with a focus on Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett, taught by Carla Locatelli. It was a revelation, and I never looked back. I owe a lot to Carla, under whose supervision I wrote my Master’s dissertation. I then met Ruby Cohn, who encouraged me to apply for a doctoral programme in Reading. I did exactly that, and spent three wonderful years on a scholarship there, working with John Pilling, exploring the archives with Mike Bott, and going to the theatre in London with Ruby. In my book I called Carla, John and Ruby my ‘buoni maestri’, my ‘good teachers’, after Dante’s description of Virgil: for me they will always be that.
“My entire career has been shaped by Beckett’s work. As a first year student I took an amazing course on modernism, with a focus on Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett, taught by Carla Locatelli. It was a revelation, and I never looked back.”
Beckett’s work is and will always remain central to what I do. I have been especially fascinated by the complex role of references, allusions, and quotations. My first book explored the presence of Dante Alighieri in the oeuvre. That book developed a comparative method that showed how, through Beckett, Dante’s Divine Comedy becomes much more malleable and open than we might have been previously inclined to think. Beckett helps us to see Dante differently, but Dante, too, shows us aspects of Beckett’s work that would otherwise be easy to overlook, as I discovered for instance when reading the Comedy in How It Is.
More recently, I worked on Beckett and Nothing, on the role of Dante in the Trinity College archives, and on Italian literature in Beckett. I am currently working on aspects of the correspondence. In April this year, I will also be teaching Beckett at the University of Tokyo, which I am very much looking forward to.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as Director for the next three years. I aim to develop a Society that is as inclusive as possible, and to develop themes and priorities that reflect the great diversity of the Beckett community.”
What can members expect of the Samuel Beckett Society under your direction?
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as Director for the next three years. I aim to develop a Society that is as inclusive as possible, and to develop themes and priorities that reflect the great diversity of the Beckett community. New possibilities are emerging from the dialogue between philological and political scholarship. In my own work – on Beckett, but also on Djuna Barnes, and on gender and sexuality in modern literature – I have always been interested in fostering such a dialogue: I hope to do the same for the Society. I am also very excited to have the opportunity to work with so many scholars from all over the world, and I will be looking at ways to develop even further what Mark Nixon, our previous Director, did to internationalize the Society and grow its membership base.