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A previously unpublished short story by Samuel Beckett, rejected as a “nightmare” by his editor, will go on sale for the first time next month, 80 years after it was written.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

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine