Watt (novel)

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Beckett Watt.jpg
1953 Olympia Press edition
Author Samuel Beckett
Country France
Language English
Publisher Olympia Press
Publication date

Watt was Samuel Beckett's second published novel in English. It was largely written on the run in the South of France during the Second World War and was first published by Maurice Girodias's Olympia Press in 1953 (an extract had been published in the Dublin literary review Envoy , in 1950 [1] ). A French translation followed in 1968.

Samuel Beckett Nobel-winning modernist Irish novelist, playwright, short story writer, translator and poet

Samuel Barclay Beckett was an Irish novelist, playwright, short story writer, theatre director, poet, and literary translator. A resident of Paris for most of his adult life, he wrote in both English and French.

Maurice Girodias French publisher

Maurice Girodias was a French publisher who was the founder of the Olympia Press. At one time he was the owner of his father's Obelisk Press. He spent most of his productive years in Paris.

Olympia Press was a Paris-based publisher, launched in 1953 by Maurice Girodias as a rebranded version of the Obelisk Press he inherited from his father Jack Kahane. It published a mix of erotic fiction and avant-garde literary fiction, and is best known for the first print of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.



Narrated in four parts, the novel describes Watt's journey to, and within, Mr Knott's house, where he becomes the reclusive owner's manservant, replacing Arsene, who delivers a long valedictory monologue at the end of section one. In section two Watt struggles to make sense of life at Mr Knott's house, experiencing deep anxiety at the visit of the piano-tuning Galls, father and son, and a mysteriously language-resistant pot, among other incidents. In section three, which has a narrator called Sam, Watt is in confinement, his language garbled almost beyond recognition, while the narrative veers off on fantastical tangents such as the story of Ernest Louit's account, to a committee at Beckett's old university, Trinity College, Dublin, of a research trip in the West of Ireland. The shorter fourth section shows Watt arriving at the railway station from which, in the novel's skewed chronology, he sets out on a journey to the institution he has already reached in section three.

Ireland Island in north-west Europe, 20th largest in world, politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (a part of the UK)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles, the third-largest in Europe, and the twentieth-largest on Earth.

The novel concludes with a series of addenda, whose incorporation into the text "only fatigue and disgust" have prevented, but which should nevertheless be "carefully studied". These take the form of concepts and fragments apparently intended for the novel but not used.

Themes and context

who may tell the tale
of the old man?
weigh absence in a scale?
mete want with a span?
the sum assess
of the world's woes?
in words enclose?

From Watt (1953) [2]

The character of Ernest Louit is only one of many satirical digs at Ireland contained in the novel. Others include the recognisably south Dublin locale and respectable citizenry of the novel's opening, Dum Spiro, editor of the Catholic magazine Crux and a connoisseur of obscure theological conundrums, and Beckett's exasperation at the ban on contraception in the Irish Free State (as previously remarked on in his 1935 essay "Censorship in the Saorstat").

Watt is characterised by an almost hypnotic use of repetition, extreme deadpan philosophical humour, deliberately unidiomatic English such as Watt's "facultative" tram stop, and such items as a frogs' chorus, a notated mixed choir, and heavy use of ellipsis towards the end of the text. The final words of the novel are "no symbols where none intended".

An ellipsis is a series of dots that usually indicates an intentional omission of a word, sentence, or whole section from a text without altering its original meaning.

Beckett himself said that Watt was written in Roussillon as "just an exercise" while he was waiting for the war to end.

Roussillon, Vaucluse Commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Roussillon is a commune in the Vaucluse department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in Southeastern France. In 2016, it had a population of 1,317. Roussillon lies within the borders of the Natural Regional Park of Luberon. In the French natural regional parks system, new economic activities may be developed only if they are sustainable.

The manuscript, which was consulted by Jorge Luis Borges when he visited the University of Texas at Austin, has been described by S. E. Gontarski (in The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett, 2004) as "the white whale of Beckett studies, a mass of documentation that defies attempts to make sense of it."

Jorge Luis Borges Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator

Jorge Francisco Isidoro Luis Borges Acevedo was an Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator, and a key figure in Spanish-language and universal literature. His best-known books, Ficciones (Fictions) and El Aleph, published in the 1940s, are compilations of short stories interconnected by common themes, including dreams, labyrinths, philosophy, libraries, mirrors, fictional writers, and mythology. Borges' works have contributed to philosophical literature and the fantasy genre, and have been considered by some critics to mark the beginning of the magic realist movement in 20th century Latin American literature. His late poems converse with such cultural figures as Spinoza, Camões, and Virgil.

Beckett was dissatisfied with the novel as originally publshed, spotting "over eighty spelling and typographical errors" as well as the omission of an entire sentence on page 19. [3] A corrected text edited by C. J. Ackerley was published by Faber and Faber in 2009. Ackerley removed many errors that appeared in previous editions.

Faber and Faber Limited, often abbreviated to Faber, is an independent publishing house in London, the United Kingdom. Published authors and poets include T. S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, William Golding, Samuel Beckett, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon.

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  1. "An Extract from Watt" by Samuel Beckett, Envoy, Vol. 1, No. 2, January 1950
  2. Watt quoted by Wayne C. Booth in his A Rhetoric of Irony, Chicago University Press 1975, p. 258 ISBN   0-226-06553-7
  3. Knowlson, James. (1996). Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. London: Bloomsbury. p. 396. ISBN   0747527199. OCLC   35837610.

Further reading