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Samuel Beckett

If British Nobel prize winning novelists have been few and far between in recent years, the same is not true of dramatists. Actual numbers may be few but, given that dramatists are a comparatively rare breed who rarely win the prize, it is notable that, in addition to Bernard Shaw, two modern British playwrights have been so honoured.

The first of these was Samuel Beckett, though it may be stretching it to call him British. Like Shaw he was Irish, and he spent most of his working life in France, and wrote much of his work in French. He wrote quite a lot, fiction as well as drama, and some of his later work has received favourable critical attention and is often performed. However there is little doubt that he would not be remembered at all, except by a few specialist students of literature, were it not for a single work.

I refer to Waiting for Godot, which may well be considered the quintessential artistic expression of 20th century angst, that useful German word that means so much more than the English word anguish does, conveying as it does a sense of deep social and psychological trauma. Recently I read a thesis by a former student of mine which set the work solidly in the existential literature of the century, existentialism being the literary philosophy that dominated serious socio-political literary activity in the quarter century after the war.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

December 2010
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