‘Lost’ Samuel Beckett story 'Echo's Bones' sees the light after rejection in 1934

People will shudder …and won’t be keen on analysing the shudder

A previously unpublished short story by Samuel Beckett, rejected as a “nightmare” by his editor, will go on sale for the first time next month, 80 years after it was written.

'Echo’s Bones', a 13,500-word work, was commissioned as the final piece for his early collection More Pricks Than Kicks, but in 1934 was rejected by editor Charles Prentice, who said it gave him “the jim-jams”.

It features Belacqua Shuah, the protagonist of the collection of interrelated stories, returning from the grave, and remained hidden in archives since it was rejected.

In a blunt rejection letter to the young Beckett, published in the introduction of the new version, Prentice wrote: “It is a nightmare… It gives me the jim-jams… There are chunks with it I don’t connect with. I am so sorry to feel like this.”

The new volume, published by Faber & Faber on 17 April, features an introduction by Dr Mark Nixon, director of the Beckett International Foundation and a reader in modern literature at the University of Reading.

“On first reading, one cannot help sympathise with Prentice’s decision to reject the story,” he writes. “But if the story is rather wild and undisciplined it is also quite brilliantly so…

“Blending fairy tales, gothic dreams and classical myth, 'Echo’s Bones' is in parts a fantastical story replete with giants, tree-houses, mandrakes, ostriches and mushrooms, drawing on a tradition of folklore as popularised by WB Yeats and the Brothers Grimm.” 

In correspondence with a friend, Beckett said the “kicking out” of the work “into which I put all I knew… discouraged me profoundly”.

The Irish writer of Waiting for Godot, who received the Nobel prize for literature in 1969 and died in 1989, had been asked by Prentice to add another story to More Pricks Than Kicks. 'Echo’s Bones', which would have been the 11th and last story in the collection, picks up the tale of Belacqua, the protagonist of the ninth story, Yellow, who has just died after surgery in hospital.

But in his rejection letter, Prentice said he feared the extra tale would “lose the book a great many readers”.

“People will shudder and be puzzled and confused, and they won’t be keen on analysing the shudder. I am certain that 'Echo’s Bones' would depress the sales very considerably,” he wrote, and More Pricks Than Kicks was published in its original form.

Dr Nixon believes the rejection inspired Beckett to write a poem of the same name, and to use the title again for his first collection of poems, Echo’s Bones and Other Precipitates, published in 1935.

More Pricks Than Kicks was Beckett’s first published full-length book, and contains extracts from his earlier work Dream of Fair to Middling Woman, which was also rejected by publishers.

Arifa Akbar: Bones of an aesthetic starting to blossom

So is 'Echo’s Bones' a “nightmare” that confounds its readers, as Samuel Beckett’s publisher claimed?

For all its literary worth – mock heroism, echoes of Dante’s Divine Comedy and strong use of dialogue – it certainly sits at odds with the short-story collection it was meant for. Bizarrely, Beckett brought his protagonist, Belacqua Shuah, back from the dead after having spent the last two stories in the collection killing him.

Is it a significant contribution to Beckett’s oeuvre? Just as Jack Kerouac’s The Haunted Life, an early work recently published for the first time, revealed his development as a young writer, so Echo’s Bones does the same for Beckett.

We see clear signs of the features that will blossom into Beckett’s distinct aesthetic: the existential angst and the dialogue in which neither party is making any genuine contact. Best of all, the absurdist humour, mixed with despair.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future