“He Tolle'd and Legge'd”: Samuel Beckett and St. Augustine. Habit and Identity in Dream of Fair to Middling Women and Murphy

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Abstract

Samuel Beckett's interest in St. Augustine is manifest throughout his oeuvre, both in terms of content and style, and can be traced from his very first works, such as Whoroscope, to his last plays and short stories. Although this interplay has been touched upon in the critical discourse on Beckett, a systematic analysis is still to be done. This paper represents an investigation into the Augustinian influence in the early Beckett, in particular Dream of Fair to Middling Women and Murphy. By considering the presence of the Confessions in these two novels I intend to show how St. Augustine's work played a significant role in the development of the young author, offering him the occasion to overcome his theory of habit as outlined in his early essay, Proust. In this text, Beckett posits habit as merely “the generic name for the countless treaties concluded between the countless subjects that constitute the individual and their countless correlative objects”. Dream still endorses this perspective, but already suggests a different dialectic of memory, will, and habit. This shift, I argue, can be connected to Beckett’s reading of Augustine's meditations, in book VIII of the Confessions, on the cleavage between the spirit and the flesh. In Murphy, we see Beckett’s 'Augustinian dialectic' fully formed: habit is no longer a veil of Maya that hides the real essence of the individual, but the condition of possibility for the subject's flight from the big world towards the truth of the inner self.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-34
Number of pages12
JournalLINGUE E LINGUAGGI
Volume2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Augustine of Hippo
  • Dream of Fair to Middling Women
  • Habit
  • Identity
  • Murphy
  • Samuel Beckett

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