Beckett, Vichy, Maurras, and the Body: Premier amour and Nouvelles

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This essay is about the relation between the treatment of the body in the major French texts that, along with Mercier et Camier, Beckett wrote between 1945 and 1946, Premier amour and the Nouvelles, and the State under which he, Suzanne and France had lived between 1940 and 1944 and from the shadow of which they had just emerged, that of the Vichy regime. What traces might conceptions of the body and physical life under Vichy be deemed to have left on Premier amour and the Nouvelles? How may Premier amour and Nouvelles be thought as a response or sets of responses to Vichy? Beckett’s overt references to Vichy are few. In the second volume of his letters, there are none from his `Vichy period’. Vichy provides no global explanation for the character of these texts. Other historical contexts leave their own marks: the France of the Front Populaire in 1936-9, of the Purges of 1944-6, the Ireland Beckett knew in the 20s and 30s, the Ireland he visited twice in 1945-6. Certainly, the texts contain a certain amount of material that cannot be read historically or even counter-historically. Nonetheless: working from the premise that a Beckett now writing in French could not altogether have abstracted himself and his art from his immediate historical past, even had he wanted to, how does Beckett’s early French art, an art it is not clear he was thinking of at that point as ever to be translated ― a writing distinct from its later English versions, not least, in the specific quality of its profound, dark, acrid, hugely provocative laughter ― indicate and address the question of somatic life in a French historical context?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-301
Number of pages21
JournalIrish University Review
Issue number2
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Oct 2015


  • Beckett, Maurras, Vichy, Body

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