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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Something Wrong There

My fact-checker

Beckett fact no. 11.

'Something wrong there', Beckett writes repeatedly in How It Is, and in many of his texts there is indeed something wrong. The narrator of Murphy mentions seven scarves holding the hero in place in his rocking chair but only accounts for six, skipping the description of how exactly he manages to tie a scarf behind his back (try it some time). In the original book versions of The Lost Ones the dimensions of the cylinder are given as fifty metres round and sixteen high, and the total surface area as 80,000 square centimetres (!).

The first of these looks obviously intentional to me, and fairly amusing as such, but not half as amusing as some of the things his publishers have done to him. When Waiting for Godot was published in 1956 the Lord Chamberlain, or 'Lord Chamberpot' as Beckett called him, was still censoring playscripts, a barbarism reflected in the chopped and butchered text. A second, improved edition appeared in 1965. But when Faber and Faber got round to publishing the Complete Dramatic Works in 1986, and without asking the author, they reverted to the bowdlerized 1956 version.

No less juicy was the attempt by John Calder to publish the short prose text 'neither' in the posthumous volume As the Story Was Told. In the original journal printing of this text a word was omitted, and in the proofs for the book a question mark was inserted, meaning, in my opening phrase, 'something wrong there'. But instead of inserting the missing word, 'neared', Calder went ahead and published... the question mark.

And finally there was the new poem in Poems 1930-1989 (Calder again), which turned out to be not so new after all, given that it was a stanza from Robert Browning's 'Epilogue to Asolando'. Beckett had copied the stanza into a notebook without an attribution and no one at Calder noticed their mistake.

So it goes in the world.

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