In Better Form
I had no need to drink at the magic fountain to be able to bear living outside of it.
Samuel Beckett met Pamela Mitchell in September of 1953. Ms. Mitchell was a Vassar grad who had spent her post-graduation 1940s working for Naval Intelligence as a civilian during the Second World War. This naturally led to a career in the business side of the theater. She was negotiating with Beckett on behalf of her boss, Harold Oram, who has purchased an option on Waiting for Godot. They began an affair, and the letters that Beckett sent her during and after their romance were more likely than Beckett’s typical correspondence to give us some inkling of the man he was. Perhaps he felt he owed her something. Beckett’s letters to the woman, abridged here for length and content, remind us how little of life he found to enjoy.
September 26, 195
My dear Pamela,
Last night over at last and safely. The first act went well, the second less well, the new Didi frogetting his lines all over the place, with me sweating in the back row. The audience didn’t seem to mind. The lighting was bad too. It will be better next week. The new Pozzo gave it up finally as a bad job and Blin had to play. The Rossets were there and Pat Bowles. The new programme wasn’t ready. I’ll send it when it is. I had a good evening with the Rossets, they turned out very nice. We dined at the Escargot where you and I were.
I look forward to having good news of your light home and then of the Giant. I shall see Lindon next Monday and get him moving on the letter he promised you, if he hasn’t sent it already.
Those were good evenings we had, for me, eating and drinking and drinking through old streets. That’s the way to do business. I’ll often be thinking of them, that is of you. Write me sometime and happy days.
October 31, 1953
My dear Pamela,
Horribly sorry to hear you are ill. Write soon that it’s all over.
I’m writing this at 10 o’clock in the morning in a cafe in Montparnasse. I’m as dull as ditchwater and can hardly hold a pen. Nobody can read my writing but it’s the best I can do. I went to Godot last night for the first time in a long time. Well played, but how I dislike that play now. Full house every night, it’s a disease. No news from H.L.O. and his option expires today.
It’s cold and bright and I wish I were on the banks of the Marne. Another fortnight and I shall. Another fortnight of translating Molloy and Watt and rehearsing with the touring cast. What will you do when you leave hospital? Convalesce in Massachusetts before going back to the good works?
Have they filled you full of penicillin? Wish I could think of something likely to amuse you but can’t.
Have to go down now to the bloody theatre and encourage the new Pozzo. Pen drying up too, like myself. Are there any French books you’d like me to send you? Ce serait avec joie. Or fashion rags? Let me know. Let me know above all that you’re better and the fever gone.
January 12, 1954
My dear Pamela
Yes, I’m gloomy, but I always am. That’s one of the numerous reasons you shouldn’t have anything to do with me. More than gloomy, melancholy mad.
Can’t write a word, it’s awful. I’ll have to write something on Jack Yeats, who is having a big exhibition here next month – his first in Paris. I’m looking forward to it enormously, haven’t seen anything since 1950. But dreading having to write about it.
Continue to gallivant. Hope you enjoyed Sleepy Hollow and that the ice wasn’t too thin.
Love and succedanea
July 25, 1954
Mouki. Thanks for your good letters. I can’t do any more than scribble a few lines. Not much change here, thought I suppose a big one compared to when I arrived over 2 months ago. It may well drag on more if not longer. I wanted in London re: Godot and may be obliged to dart over for 24 hours. I hope not. Guinness is out, can’t wait indefinitely on his good pleasure, or for a gap in his endless commitments. Producer Glenville too seems up to his eyes in more lucrative undertakings and perhaps we’ll have another producer. In any case have told them to get on with it with whatever people available and to hell with stars. If the play can’t get over with ordinarily competent producing and playing then it’s not worth doing at all.
Don’t be killing yourself in that foolish office if half-a-day’s work is a possibility and enough to keep you going. One can really do with very little money living as you are now.
August 19, 1954
Thanks for all your letters and news of your doings. Do not get silly ideas into yr head about hurting. It is I the hurter of the two.
And most evenings walk along the beach, or over the hill to the mountain view, but not this evening. Should have made quite a good butler, no, too much responsibility, but a superior kind of house-boy. Soon the leaves will be turning, it’ll be winter before I’m home, and then? It’ll have to be very easy whatever it is, I can’t face any more difficulties, and I can’t bear the thought of giving any more pain.
See nobody and have long since lost all desire to.
Fortunately there is plenty to do, more than ever, and fortunately the nights are still long and fairly good with the old sea still telling the old story at the end of the garden. My room has a French window out to the garden and I can slip out of an evening and prowl without disturbing anyone.
Here are a few books you could read, if you have not already:
Malraux: Man’s Fate
Julien Green: The Dark Journey
Celine: Voyage to the End of Night
Jules Renard: Journal
Camus: The Stranger
August 27th, 1954
Here things drag on, a little more awful every day, and with so many days yet probably to run what awfulness to look forward to. Delighted to hear that you are enjoying just being in Paris, the air, the people, the sights and food and drink. I’d give a large slice of my uncertain expectations for a bottle of Invalides Beaujolais, for consumption on the spot. And I suppose when I do get it, there’ll be some other misery to spoil it. The first bottle anyway.
So it goes, with ungratitude for such a great thing as to be able to rise and move from one’s place, if only a few sad steps.
March 12th, 1956
So glad to have your letter after so long. I find it increasingly difficult to write – even letters. Good for nothing but doddering about my place in the country, where I am at the moment. The cold was desperate all last month and I think it has killed the cedar, though there are still traces of green in the burnt needles that make me hope it will recover. Have been digging holes for new plantations and hope to get them down this week – including a blue cypress! Gave up my dream of a golden yew on being informed its maximum rate of growth was one inch a year.
I did not realize your Nantucket place had been sold and understand how much you must miss it. I have corrected proofs of Malone for Rosset and the book should be out soon. Don’t buy a copy for God’s sake and don’t even read the one I’ll have sent to you. My God how I hate my own work.
Shall be fifty (50) in a month’s time and can well believe it. 18.000 days and not much to show for them. Better stop before I start. No news anyway. Just jog along, on the flat of my back 15 hours of the 24. Often think of our brief times together. Cold comfort. Forgive wretched letter. At least it’s a sign of life. Write again soon.