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Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett Paperback – April 30, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
This is the standard biography of Beckett because Knowlson has access to more first-hand information than any other. Doesn't hurt to have Beckett's authorization and good graces, either. It is true that the amount of information here is overwhelming, but this makes it the piece that a student of Beckett needs to have, something that one can consult for the rest of one's life. If one wants idle and sensationalistic speculation on Beckett's complexes, then you should waste your money on Bair. The choice shouldn't be hard.
Knowlson is quite upfront about his own twenty-odd year working relationship with Beckett. He is the founder of the Beckett Archive at the University of Reading, has contributed to the critical canon, and had the good fortune to interview his subject at length over a period of many months prior to his death in 1989. Yet this does not come across as an acolyte's toadying; rather, it resonates as a sincere appreciation of a man and his work.
Knowlson was a close personal friend of Beckett's-- a fact which he does not try to hide in his treatment. And as such he has access to letters and papers of which other would-be Beckett biographers could only dream. And as a friend, I found that he left the focus in the place that Beckett would have wanted it-- on the work itself, on the vision, on the *writing*.
Which is not to say that he neglects Beckett as a person. But Beckett was a deeply private person and I found that Knowlson did an excellent job of balancing the privacy so dear to the subject with discussing what the reader needs to know to understand the artist.
For a casual reader, Damned to Fame might even be *too* exhaustive. I appreciated it, however. Particularly appreciated all the references to what Beckett was reading at various points in his life and I as well appreciated the copious notes and bibliography provided at the end of the book.
Joyce , Beckett's boss, and great inspiration , taught him the meaning of total dedication to the craft. But Joyce also gave him the key negative example. The feary father was greedy, and always added on and made more words than any other maker could possibly contend with . So Beckett chose a contradictory technique and became the great minimizer, the great substractor, the master of 'Less is More'.
One reviewer on the Amazon site(Tepi)excoriates Knowlson for playing down the emotional and psychological drama and difficulty of Beckett's life, of underestimating the role the cold mother played on her creator son. The criticism too of the biography is that it does not come to life in providing real portraits of the real people in Beckett's life, including the companion of twenty - years Susan.
Nonetheless I believe in general we search for the good in the book, value what it gives us. And this book does give us much new detail about a master in the art of making meaning out of what is smaller.
My own reading of Beckett goes back a long way in misunderstanding and appreciation. I in reading years ago the trilogy of novels felt that Beckett comprehended a basic aspect of human experience, in old age and dying, in a way no one else had. He made into 'Literature' kinds of experience which had not been made into Literature before.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Detailed early life and education with clear links to Beckett's work, make it highly useful for the teacher of Beckett's work set for NSW HSC. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Shirley prescott
I am not sure where to start with this. I have spent well over one year going through this biography while trying to keep pace with Beckett’s works as they are presented. Read morePublished 11 months ago by William K. Dearth
I am not qualified to judge biographies comparatively, and people sometimes have very vehement opinions on the realtive merits of biographies, so here is my personal opinion of... Read morePublished on May 25, 2013 by Amazonian
At the time I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Beckett's novels, back in the early '70s, there was no such thing as a biography of the man, only journalistic gossip and sidelong... Read morePublished on February 15, 2010 by Michael R. Sawdey
Reading this book was an agonizing experience. I love Beckett's work, but Knowlson's obsequiousness is almost too much to bear. Read morePublished on October 2, 2009 by Jessica Egan
James Knowlson's scholarly, yet accessible and gripping, biography of Samuel Beckett enables readers to meet the real man behind his poems (e.g. Read morePublished on June 29, 2008 by Vivien A. Adams
Considering the voluminous experience garnered by his subject, James Knowlson does a good job in this depiction of a great writer and and even greater personality - a life that... Read morePublished on February 23, 2008 by Matt Hill
If the scale permitted, I would give Knowlson's biography of Samuel Beckett 4 1/2 stars. It is an impressively thorough, passionate, and scholarly work by an ardent admirer. Read morePublished on March 4, 2006 by Peter Gallo