Letter: Consternation over Beckett's wild thoughts

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The Independent Online
KARL MILLER'S article ('Paddling in the sexpit', Review, 13 December) on Samuel Beckett's Dream of Fair to Middling Women declares that this, Beckett's first novel, 'was consigned to 'the chest into which I threw my wild thoughts' '. But this was Beckett's metaphorical characterisation of his book, not an actual chest into which he threw the manuscript. Eoin O'Brien's editorial introduction makes this quite clear: 'He was interested in the reaction of a man more than 30 years his junior to Dream or, as he called it, 'the chest into which I threw my wild thoughts'.'

Miller then refers to 'this text which for 60 years Beckett had not wanted to publish'. But again, O'Brien describes in some detail how 'Dream was submitted by Beckett to a number of publishers' in London in 1933, the year after it was written, and how this proved a 'fruitless fight'. Dream is published now, as Beckett wrote in 1934 it was 'bound to' be, at 'Beckett's own behest, expressed to me in talks on the subject between 1975 and 1989'.

Miller tells readers that at the novel's climax a party hostess welcomes the drunk and bedraggled protagonist, Belacqua, 'without consternation'. Her reception of him is actually worded as follows: 'She recoiled, clapped a hand to her teeth, and goggled . . .' etc. It reads distinctly like consternation to me.

And consternation is just what Miller's further inaccuracies and disparaging conclusions fill me with. O'Brien's introduction favours an open style, but this does not mean, as Miller pretends, that he is 'unable to punctuate his own sentences, or to construct them in readable form'. If anything, it's Miller who seems unable to read plain English.

His cheapest shot is to pillory O'Brien's obviously accidental misphrasing, or his typesetter's mis-setting, of the pertinent point that in Dream Beckett often 'deliberately flouted grammatical convention'. This does not mean, as Miller mockingly suggests, that O'Brien 'does not know what 'flaunt' means'. Yet your reviewer asks: 'What sort of transcriber can he have been?'

Given that Dr O'Brien was discriminating, as his introduction explains, among 'nuances that might have been typographical errors made by Beckett or intentional word-playing and word- coining', he may well strike more sympathetic readers as having done a much better job with their transcription than Karl Miller has done with his account of it.

Michael Horovitz

Editor, New Departures

Bisley, Glos