The Grove Centenary Editions of Samuel Beckett Four Volume Boxed Set is a simple, albeit expensive, way of getting all his works, but these editions do not include the posthumously published letters or first novel. Besides, what fun would that be? Wouldn't you rather discuss 17 books than 4?
In the following table books marked V under Bloom were included in Harold Bloom's inescapable Western Canon; books marked V under Me were read by me and are discussed below.
|Dream of Fair to Middling Women||-||-||Novel|
|More Pricks than Kicks||-||-||Stories|
|Mercier and Camier||-||V||Novel|
|Three Novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable)||V||V||Also known as The Trilogy|
|Waiting for Godot||V||V||Play|
|How It Is||V||-||Novel|
|Nohow On||-||V||3 Novellas|
|Disjecta||-||V||Various writings and a dramatic fragment|
|Complete Short Prose||-||V||Stories and texts|
|Collected Shorter Plays||"Krapp's Last Tape"||V||Short plays and scripts|
|Collected Poems in English and French||-||V||Poetry|
|Letters Volume 1||-||-|
Molloy is my personal favorite, and though the other two (Malone Dies and The Unnameable) gradually become more solipsistic and repetitive, all three novels are definitely at the top of my recommended list. The writing is brilliant in all three, funny and at times poignant, though very little ever seems to happen (and if something does happen the narrators often focus on its minutest details).
The three novellas collected in Nohow On (Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, and Worstward Ho) are often set up in relation to the "Three Novels," as a further exploration of the same themes with even less of a plot and context, which is perhaps why I found them to be too abstract. Though some of the passages exhibit wonderful prose, without any real characters or events it's very hard for each of these pieces to coalesce into a recognizable whole.
The Complete Short Prose includes all of Beckett's short fiction - excluding the ten stories concerned with the character Belacqua Shuah that make up the collection More Pricks than Kicks - spanning his entire career, from 1929 to 1989, thus offering an interesting view of his development. The stories "First Love," "The End," "The Expelled," and "The Calmative" are among his best fiction and, being short, offer the best introduction to his non-dramatic work. Later works in the collection, as in the case of the novels, tend towards greater abstraction and could often not even be classified as "stories" in the traditional sense - they are texts, fragments, "fizzles." This collection reveals, all within the space of a single volume, Beckett's movement from Modernist stories to Postmodernist fragments, where stories are no longer required, as one of the texts explicitly states:
Short Stories and Texts:
Short Stories and Texts:
...once there is speech, no need of a story, a story is not cumpolsory, just a life, that's the mistake I made, one of the mistakes, to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough.Of these later writings the best are the 13 "Texts for Nothing," "Heard in the Dark" 1 & 2, and "Stirrings Still."
Theatre Royal Haymarket with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Vladimir and Estragon). Endgame is also a masterpiece, though bleaker (I only fully appreciated it after seeing it on stage - at BAM in 2008, with John Turturro as Hamm).
YouTube). Some of these texts are barely readable - consisting of a series of instructions for actors, directors, or lighting technicians, making it difficult to visualize exactly what Beckett was going for, and at any rate having much less of an effect than one would probably get from the actual performance. Of the 29 pieces collected here "Krapp's Last Tape" stands out as the best; other works worth reading are "Rough for Theater" 1 & 2, "Rough for Radio" 1 & 2, "A Piece of Monologue," "Ohio Impromptu," and "Play" (In the UK Beckett's Complete Dramatic Works are available in a single volume published by Faber & Faber).
All of Beckett's plays and playlets (a total of 19 works) were filmed as part of the Beckett on Film project (available as a DVD Box set) and videos of many of the other works can be found online (perhaps a separate Beckett YouTube post is in order).
Scene from Krapp's Last Tape, part of the Beckett on Film project,
directed by Atom Egoyan and starring John Hurt
Disjecta collects Beckett's miscellaneous writings, including "Dante ... Bruno . Vico ... Joyce" which he originally wrote for Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress, a 1929 volume of laudatory essays about James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (at the time published serially under the title Work in Progress). Other works include essays on writers, artists, his own work, and a single scene from an unfinished (or mostly unwritten) play about Dr. Samuel Johnson. It is well documented that Beckett himself didn't think much of these pieces and nor do I. Some critics claim that these texts, particularly "Three Dialogues," provide a sort of self-commentary on Beckett's struggle with expression, but I find them superfluous - that struggle is expressed clearly enough through his fictional works.
Spend the years of learning squandering
Courage for the years of wandering
Through a world politely turning
From the loutishness of learning