'Lost' Beckett novella to be published

Monday 31 March 2014 16.15
Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969
Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969

A previously unpublished work that was rejected as "a nightmare" by Samuel Beckett 's editor in 1933 will be published next month.

The novella ‘Echo's Bones’, meant to have been the 11th and concluding story in Beckett's early collection ‘More Pricks than Kicks’, will be published on its own by Faber & Faber on 17 April with an introduction by Beckett scholar Mark Nixon.

Mr Nixon, a reader of modern literature at the University of Reading, which houses the most extensive collection of Beckett's papers, said he understood why the 13,500-word story failed to make the cut, but he thinks it will be of interest to more than just Beckett scholars.

"It is well written. It's a sign of a very intelligent young man writing very much in the mold of modernistic experimental fiction of the time," Mr Nixon said.

"You can see the influence of James Joyce in the story, in that Beckett is taking themes and styles and references from many different sources."

Mr Nixon said he appreciated why Beckett's then-editor, Charles Prentice of publisher Chatto & Windus, had rejected it.

In a November 1933 note to Beckett, who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 and died in 1989, Mr Prentice wrote: "Dear Sam, It is a nightmare ... 'Echo's Bones' would, I am sure, lose the book a great many readers."

Mr Nixon said that although Beckett's stories generally could be strange, this one was a bit stranger, featuring as its main character a person who returns from the grave.

"It's just that little bit more weird or perhaps put differently, it's rather crazy," Mr Nixon said.

"It moves between being incredibly serious very quickly, within the sentence, to being very bawdy, having schoolboy humour in it. It changes its register so often that the reader tends to be quite confused about what is going on.

"It's why we've published this edition with a long introduction," Mr Nixon said, adding that the decision had been made to publish 'Echo's Bones' separately because 'More Pricks and Kicks' has "stood on its own all these years".

Mr Nixon said the novella probably had been forgotten by Beckett as his attention turned to other things, but that two copies of it had remained, in archives at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and at the University of Texas in Austin.

"Beckett didn't destroy it, it's not as if he wanted all traces of it to disappear," Mr Nixon said.

He said he had broached the idea of publishing the forgotten story several years ago with Edward Beckett, the writer's nephew and executor of his literary estate, leading to the forthcoming edition.

Mr Nixon said he knew of no other lost Beckett stories awaiting publication, but he said there was a plan afoot to publish a diary Beckett kept of a six-month trip he made through Nazi Germany in 1936 and 1937.

"That's going to be incredibly interesting," he said, adding that the diary will first be published in Germany in 2016 and after that by Faber & Faber.