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Seán Kennedy (NUI, Galway)
Historicising Beckett: Aspects of the Four Novellas (1946)

    It is often claimed that Ireland disappears in Beckett’s mature writings after 1946. This paper will challenge such a claim, arguing in the case of Beckett’s Four Novellas that the Irish Free State provides the obscured setting for these important transitional texts. Reading the stories against the background of Irish political developments in the first half of the twentieth century, I want to examine the narrator’s exacerbated sense of cultural dislocation in the context of his sense of exclusion from the narratives of identity being espoused by Ireland’s Catholic nationalist administrators. Identifying the many oblique references to Irish culture and politics in the stories, I want to argue that the Novellas can be most usefully read as Beckett’s attempts to negotiate his own cultural predicament as an errant son of well-to-do Protestantism in Irish Ireland. By tracing the narrator’s exteriority to cultural and political forces that Beckett himself encountered in the Irish Free State, I hope to challenge the prevailing view that Ireland is of decreasing relevance to an understanding of Beckett’s development after 1946, and to underline the need for a historical approach to the study of Beckett’s mature writings.

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