Sunday 30 May 2021

Beckett in Folkestone; Form on 4

 Yesterday on Radio 4, I caught a few minutes of an interview with that fine actress Harriet Walter. My ears pricked up when she mentioned the name of Samuel Beckett, and I gathered that she is involved with a Folkestone Book Festival production inspired by Beckett's two-week sojourn in that South coast resort. This was something I didn't know about (though I should have done, having ploughed through Deirdre Bair's exhaustive biography years ago). In 1961 Beckett had decided to put his affairs in order by marrying his long-time partner Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil and making her the heir to his literary property. As most of his business affairs were based in the UK, he would have to reside there for two weeks before the marriage could go ahead. His publisher, John Calder, suggested that he stay in a quiet South coast resort, handy for France and ideal for lying low.   
  So Beckett and his trusty Citroen 2CV ('Two Nags') flew over from Le Touquet to Lydd airport, from where Beckett drove to the (then) genteel resort of Folkestone and booked in to the small Hotel Bristol (since demolished) on the Leas, the elegant clifftop promenade designed by Decimus Burton. He signed the register as Barclay (his middle name) to avoid attention, and spent his time working on his play Happy Days and drinking Guinness in dreary backstreet pubs. After a while Suzanne joined him and they took some drives into the Kentish countryside (the names of two Kent villages, Ash and Snodland, find their way into Happy Days). They were married at Folkestone registry office, with two witnesses signing the register – E. Pugsley and J. Bond, presumably passersby or registry staff. Then it was back to Paris, from where Beckett summed things up in a letter – 'Thank God that is over.' 

Later on Radio 4, I was pleasantly surprised (not something I often say about anything on Radio 4) to happen on a series called On Form – about poetic form! Not a subject one readily associates with Radio 4 poetry programmes, which tend towards shapeless free expression or slamming rap-style couplets. Here was a handy little guide to the sonnet and its history, with nods to Petrarch, Thomas Wyatt and Shakespeare (the latter two represented by specimen sonnets). Sadly the programme fell apart somewhat when we came to sample sonnets being written today by poets who are supposedly in thrall to the form. Alas, their works sounded more like chopped-up prose than formal sonnets – but never mind. Surely it is a good, perhaps even hopeful, thing that Radio 4 is running a series on poetic form. As one of the participants said, form is 'more about freedom than it is about constraint'. Indeed it is.


  1. Good text. Happy days Is one of My favorite plays. And your post Is a kind of gift. Today Is NY birthday

  2. Thanks Ricardo. Do you mean 'MY birthday'? If so, feliz aniversario.

    1. My birthday, yes the old finger did not press the right letter. Obrigado!