Friday, November 25, 2011

Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil

When I was an editor at the Harvill Press I put out feelers regarding a short biography of Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil, the woman who lived in Samuel Beckett’s shadow. The answer came back that there was ‘nothing there’, but in my view she remains a rather fascinating figure.

Tim Parks’s review of The Letters of Samuel Beckett: 1941-56 in the London Review of Books only confirms this. Beckett changed over the war years, says Parks, but the war was not the only factor:

“. . . most of all there was Suzanne. Already acquainted with Beckett, she had drawn close to him when he was at his most vulnerable, hospitalised in 1938 for stab wounds received in a mugging. Six years older than Beckett, Suzanne would allow him to depend on her economically, while letting him retain an independence of action few partners would have granted. She would also provide a buffer between Beckett and the literary world, taking his manuscripts to publishers, writing to them for him and later going to productions of his plays to check that all was being done as he wished. It wasn’t quite the scenario of First Love – the man barricaded in his bedroom while the beloved provides – but Beckett had found a remarkable facilitator.

Yet we hear almost nothing about her from his correspondence: Suzanne sends her greetings, Beckett tells us at the close of many letters; she asks to be remembered; she thanks someone for chocolates. In one letter he mentions her ‘heroically spreading out her dressmaking’ and in another that she has painted a wheelbarrow red. But nothing about their relationship or her opinions. What letters Beckett wrote to her and she to him have not survived; one assumes this was deliberate. Towards the end of a letter to Duthuit, written from Dublin in August 1948, Beckett comments: ‘Suzanne writes, letters that are more and more dismal. At bottom, she is inconsolable at living.’”

You can read the full review here.

1 comment:

Steve said...

So true. The absence of even quotidien details about Suzanne Déchevaux-Dumesnil in the letters is at first simply strange and then striking.

I found your post as I searched for some details, anything, that would reveal her beyond the incredibly savvy and tough literrary agent that starts to emerge in the post-war letters.

Of course, Beckett really never -- even with his closest male friends -- dishes about his various loves and conquests, does he?

I found that striking in the early letters: all sorts of hints of a lusty and earthy underbelly, but no extended passages or stories about a love life or even erotic impulses.

It's not that it bothers me. It's that the absence is conspicuous and seems revealing of something....