It was pretty cold when I visited the archive in December and, in rebellion at the pummellings of pre-Christmas cheer, I ordered up some drafts of Beckett’s final prose work ‘Stirrings Still.’ I was intrigued by the description in Jim Knowlson’s biography of the physical frailty evident in Beckett’s handwriting as he worked on it in the last years of his life.
While much romance is attached to the notion of ‘living fast and dying young’ I find the idea of the artist who has survived into old age embarking on what, they must suspect, will be their final work indescribably moving. That Beckett probably knew, with ‘Stirrings Still’, he would be setting down the burden of his lifelong struggle with the word, is almost unbearable. So then to witness how, even at this late/last stage, he was still completely engaged in that struggle is extraordinary, inspiring. His penmanship has indeed become spidery and fragile but his insistence on his customary, methodically honed, perfection remains unforgiving. He moves back and forth between English and French until the correct language has become apparent and then follows draft upon meticulously corrected draft until he is satisfied. His final ‘Oh all to end’ manages to, at once, encapsulate the preoccupations of his entre literary life and provide a flawless a sign-off to it.
Multi-award-winning author Eimeer McBride is Reading’s first Beckett Creative Fellow, and has been given unique access to our internationally important Beckett Archive – the largest collection of publicly accessible Samuel Beckett materials in the world. This is her latest monthly journal entry about her experiences of working with the materials.