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Stephen John Dilks (University of Missouri – Kansas City)
Received understandings suggest that Beckett “loathed self-promotion in all its forms,” had no interest in celebrity, and preferred failure to success. This representation, evident in “press release” influenced newspaper reviews in 1955-58, is fully developed in Knowlson’s “sole authorized biography.” It is, in fact, intrinsic to the authorial persona Beckett developed in 1937-1945 and it was the main selling proposition in the Grove Press marketing campaign that put Beckett on the road to sustained international fame in 1953-58. Based on research in the Beckett archives at Reading University and the HRHRC in Austin, and in the Calder and Boyars collection at the Lilly in Bloomington, and the Grove Press collection at the Byrd in Syracuse, this presentation explores Beckett’s relationship with the literary marketplace by cross-referencing publicity materials and newspaper reviews from 1953 to 1958 with correspondence from the same period between Beckett, John Calder, Jèrôme Lindon, and Barney Rosset. My working hypothesis is that, while we would go too far if we were to argue that Beckett were directly complicit in a marketing campaign that was, after all, mainly driven by Rosset’s entrepreneurial energy, we miss an important aspect of Beckett’s contribution to literary history if we overlook the efforts he made to assist his publishers and other supporters as they transformed him from a Left bank phenomenon into an internationally famous writer. While the 1956 Shenker “non-interview interview” had a direct impact on box-office sales during the first New York run of Godot, Beckett’s participation in the marketing campaign was typically even more evasive. Still, letters from the period demonstrate that he played a “behind-the-scenes” role in the packaging of his texts; and publicity photographs from the period demonstrate that he engaged in the formal business of self-promotion. The final phase of the presentation briefly considers the extent to which, a latter-day Brechtian obsessed with the minutiae of literary expression, Beckett deliberately exposed the public relations tricks used to promote his name, his image, and his work. The final phase also briefly considers lessons inherent in Beckett’s unique relationship with the literary marketplace in the post-WW II age.
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