by Chris Hammond
Dr. Magessa O’Reilly
By Kristin Harris
Samuel Beckett is perhaps best known for his playwriting,
but Dr. Magessa O’Reilly, professor in the Department
of French and Spanish, has taken a deeper look at some of
Beckett’s novels. The major result is the text Samuel
Beckett: How It is/Comment C’est et L’image,
published in 2001, as well as an upcoming volume, Samuel
Beckett was a prolific writer in both English and French,
the latter earned him a Nobel Prize. One especially interesting
fact about Beckett’s writings is that he translated
many of his own works from one language to another.
“He was able to translate his own work so beautifully,
so nicely, that there are interesting equivalencies in the
English and French that others would not have thought of,”
said Dr. O’Reilly. “During what is arguably
Beckett’s most creative period, he wrote in French
first, then translated the text into English.”
These texts are part of a larger project that is headed
up by Dr. Charles Krance, a retired scholar at the University
of Chicago. The long-term goal is to publish the complete
bilingual works of Beckett.
What is unique about this project is that researchers are
not only providing Beckett’s text side-by-side in
the two languages, but that manuscript material is included.
Much of these manuscript materials were scattered in various
libraries and private collections, so making these raw documents
available to interested parties makes this an invaluable
series of publications.
In addition to the value of this material to Beckett scholars,
Dr. O’Reilly sees it as applicable to those who are
interested in manuscript material. By examining the numerous
manuscripts for any one text, the reader is able to see
the different layers of the creative process, and the development
of writing style.
For example, How It is/Comment C’est et L’image
is an unusual text in that it is neither poetry nor prose.
Dr. O’Reilly likens Beckett’s writing in this
piece to be the literary representation of oral speech,
with its short, repetitive phrases and lack of punctuation.
He attests that Beckett, “was digging down to the
depths of what an individual is, like peeling layers off
an onion,” through the content and style of this piece.
Because grammatical tools are so integral to language and
how we interpret the world, it was naturally difficult for
Beckett to free himself from the confines of the sentence.
This is evident when examining the three early versions
of the text in manuscript form, where Beckett breaks down
his use of sentences more and more. The final version illustrates
his success at achieving this seeming lack of style.
Dr. O’Reilly’s current interest in Beckett comes
from his doctoral dissertation at the University of Ottawa,
which focused on Beckett’s French writing and style.
Since then, he has expanded to working on Beckett’s
works written in both English and French. His text on Molloy
has an anticipated publishing date of 2005.