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12 Tragicomic Facts about Samuel Beckett

Born in 1906 in Dublin, Ireland, Samuel Beckett was a playwright, novelist, and poet who wrote about solitude, despair, and futility. Writing in both English and French, Beckett used dark humor to explore the human condition. He died at age 83 in 1989, but in honor of his birthday, here are a dozen facts about his life and work

1. BECKETT BROKE LITERARY RULES BY WRITING BOOKS WITHOUT CHARACTERS AND PLOT.

Considered one of the last Modernists, or sometimes the first Postmodernist, Beckett wrote novels and plays with minimal characters, plot, and scenery. Dubbed “Theatre of the Absurd,” Beckett’s plays—such as his most famous, Waiting For Godot—pessimistically portray the human condition as one that is hopeless and meaningless. The minimal characters and plot reflect this bleak view of life.

2. HE BEFRIENDED JAMES JOYCE, BUT THE TWO WRITERS HAD A FALLING OUT.

In the late 1920s in Paris, Beckett worked as writer James Joyce’s assistant, helping him transcribe and do research for Joyce's novel Finnegans Wake. Beckett greatly admired Joyce, and in 1929, he published an essay defending Joyce’s work. Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, had a crush on Beckett, but he didn’t return her feelings, and the unrequited love reportedly ruined the friendship between Joyce and Beckett.

3. HE LOVED PLAYING AND WATCHING SPORTS …

As a student at a boarding school in Northern Ireland, Beckett was a talented cricket player. When he was 20 years old, he even played a few games for the Dublin University Cricket Club. But his love of sports wasn’t limited to cricket. Beckett was also a lifelong tennis fan who both played and watched tennis matches on TV.

4. … AND HIS WRITING INSPIRED A TENNIS STAR’S TATTOO.

Swiss tennis player Stanislas Wawrinka has beaten favorites Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to win the 2014 Australian Open and 2015 French Open, respectively. To feel inspired on the court, Wawrinka looks down at the inside of his left forearm, which has a tattoo of Beckett’s words from his 1983 novella Worstward Ho: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Wawrinka told The Guardian, “I first saw the quote a long time ago. It always stayed in my mind. It’s how I see life and tennis.”

5. ENTREPRENEURS ALSO LOVE THAT QUOTE.

With the rise of startup culture, business owners have looked for pithy quotes that offer quick advice and motivation. Beckett’s words from Worstward Ho—“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”—have ironically become a popular motivational quote. Although Beckett was focused more on nihilism than self-help, entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson and Tim Ferriss have referred to Beckett’s “Fail better” quote.

6. HE DROVE ANDRÉ THE GIANT TO SCHOOL IN A BIG TRUCK.

In the 1950s, Beckett lived in a hamlet in France and befriended a neighbor, Boris Roussimoff. Because Roussimoff’s 12-year-old son, André, had gigantism, the boy couldn’t get to school—he didn’t fit on the school bus or in the car. Because Beckett had a pickup truck, the writer gave André rides to school. The two chatted about cricket, and André later became a professional wrestler and actor (he's best known for playing Fezzik in The Princess Bride).

7. HE FELT THAT HE HAD NEVER BEEN BORN.

After his dad died in 1933, Beckett experienced night terrors, stomach pain, and depression. He became a patient of Wilfred Bion, a British psychoanalyst, for two years. During this time, he attended a Carl Jung lecture where Jung discussed a girl who had never really been born, an idea with which Beckett identified. He reportedly told close friends that he felt the same way, and much of his work explores themes of alienation, existentialism, and emptiness.

8. HE FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS FUTURE WIFE AFTER BEING STABBED BY A PIMP.

In January 1938, a pimp on a Paris street stabbed Beckett, perforating his lung and seriously injuring him. A tennis acquaintance of Beckett’s, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, heard about the attack and visited Beckett regularly in the hospital during his two week stay. He and Suzanne, who was six years older, fell in love, lived together for many years, and eventually married in 1961. She died in July 1989, and he died a few months after his wife, in December 1989.

9. HE FOUGHT AGAINST THE NAZIS AS PART OF THE FRENCH RESISTANCE.

In World War II, Beckett participated in the French Resistance to fight against the Nazi occupation of France. Translating documents and using his apartment as an information drop, Beckett risked arrest to fight the Nazis. After some of his friends in the French Resistance were arrested, he fled to the south of France in 1942, but he continued to help the movement. The French government later gave Beckett the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) and Médaille de la Résistance (Medal of the Resistance) for his courage.

10. HE MADE A WEIRD MOVIE WITH BUSTER KEATON.

Beckett wrote his only screenplay in the early 1960s and cast a 70-year-old Buster Keaton in his movie, called Film. Released in 1965, Film portrays Keaton in a city, trying to hurry past others on a street, and in a room with various pets and a lone piece of artwork. Highly experimental, Film got mixed reviews, and Beckett described it as an interesting failure.

11. HE WON A NOBEL PRIZE, BUT WASN’T SUPER HAPPY ABOUT IT.

In 1969, Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his innovative novels and dramas. When he and his wife found out that he had won, she said, “Quelle catastrophe!” (What a catastrophe!) because she knew that her husband didn’t like to be in the spotlight. Because of Beckett’s dislike of fame and publicity, he refused to accept the Nobel Prize in person so he wouldn’t have to give a speech. Beckett’s publisher accepted the award on Beckett’s behalf, and Beckett gave away his prize money, mostly to the library at his alma mater, Dublin’s Trinity College.

12. THERE’S A VERY COOL BRIDGE NAMED AFTER HIM IN DUBLIN.

In December 2009, Beckett’s nephew and niece were present at the Samuel Beckett Bridge opening ceremony in Dublin. Suspended over the River Liffey, the bridge has a series of 31 cables that make it look like a giant harp. Designed by architect Santiago Calatrava (who also designed the nearby James Joyce Bridge), the Samuel Beckett Bridge accommodates car and pedestrian traffic.

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Build Your Own Harry Potter Characters With LEGO's New BrickHeadz Set

Harry Potter is looking pretty square these days. In a testament to the enduring appeal of the boy—and the franchise—who lived, LEGO has launched a line of Harry Potter BrickHeadz.

The gang’s all here in this latest collection, which was recently revealed during the toymaker’s Fall 2018 preview in New York City. Other highlights of that show included LEGO renderings of characters from Star Wars, Incredibles 2, and several Disney films, according to Inside The Magic.

The Harry Potter BrickHeadz collection will be released in July and includes figurines of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore, and even Hedwig. Some will be sold individually, while others come as a set.

A Ron Weasley figurine
LEGO

A Hermione figurine
LEGO

A Dumbledore figurine
LEGO

Harry Potter fans can also look forward to a four-story, 878-piece LEGO model of the Hogwarts Great Hall, which will be available for purchase August 1. Sets depicting the Whomping Willow, Hogwarts Express, and a quidditch match will hit shelves that same day.

[h/t Inside The Magic]

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
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Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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