2022 - “A wretchedness to defend”: Reading Beckett’s Letters

“A wretchedness to defend”: Reading Beckett’s Letters by Erika Mihálycsa, Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania

Open access copy available for download at DUPress: https://dupress.unideb.hu/hu/termek/a-wrechedness-to-defend-e-book/

“A wretchedness to defend”: Reading Beckett’s Letters is an in-depth study of the correspondence of Samuel Beckett, selected and published by Cambridge University Press between 2009 and 2016. The volume treats the letters as inroads to Beckett’s poetics, stressing that, apart from their value as key documents to the Beckett canon, these are of a literary quality consubstantial with the output of one of the most radical modern writers. Reading Beckett’s pronouncements on works of literature and art, his first-hand accounts of grappling with his own writerly material, as well as his—invariably reserved—clarifications to theater-makers, translators, and interpreters of his work, in the context of his published fiction and plays and in light of recent advances in archival Beckett studies, the present book focuses on Beckett’s sustained self-education in literature, the visual arts, and philosophy, which imbricates his writerly choices, his lifelong commitment to critical reading, as well as his dilemmas in the practice of writing, self-translating, and theatrical performance. It points at the multiple ways in which this vast and manyfaceted correspondence reveals previously unknown contexts, over- and undertones of the work, and illuminates the processes of knowledge and “unknowing” on which Beckett’s singular aesthetics of impoverishment, of the low, of finitude, of ethical blank writing and achievementlessness is premised. Given its multiple foci on Beckett the reader, the self-translator, and the selfdirector, the book is of potential interest to Beckett researchers, scholars working in the field of modernism and translation studies, as well as readers of Beckett.


“‘A wretchedness to defend’: Reading Beckett’s Letters” is the first book-length study to take the full measure of Samuel Beckett’s correspondence. As Mihálycsa’s assured writing highlights, this multilingual correspondence provides an essential insight into Beckett’s life and work. Along the way, profound insights into one of literature’s greats are yoked to recent developments in Beckett Studies, which has emerged as a leading sub-discipline in the study of modern literature. For scholars of Beckett Studies, and indeed modern literature more generally, this monograph is an assured guide to the wit, insight, and stoicism offered in Beckett’s letters.”

—Matthew Feldman, editor of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Philosophy Notes’ (2020) and author of Falsifying Beckett: Essays on Archives, Philosophy and Methodology in Beckett Studies (2015), and Beckett's Books (2006)


“Mihálycsa’s engagement with his letters goes beyond the autobiographical into a provocative, rich, and illuminating account of the forms in which, over a long writing life, Beckett achieves, renounces and reinvents the mastery that holds his oeuvre together across all its multifariousness. Theoretically informed but warmly human, too, ‘A wretchedness to defend’ is a rewarding and original study of the epistolary Beckett.”

—David Wheatley, contributor to The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish Poetry (2012), The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (2013), and The Cambridge Companion to Contemporary Irish Poetry (2003) among others



Erika Mihálycsa, Associate Professor at Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj, Romania, has mainly published in the field of Joyce and Beckett studies, Anglophone and European Modernism, and translation studies. Her articles and reviews on Joyce in translation, Beckett and the visual arts, Beckett’s language poetics, and various aspects of literary and visual modernism appeared in Word and Image, Joyce Studies Annual, European Joyce Studies, Textual Practice, Joyce Studies in Italy, James Joyce Quarterly, HJEAS, as well as in numerous edited volumes.