Literary Daybook, April 3

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published April 3, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On April 3, 1875, the train stops for several hours while the men slaughter buffalo.
-- "One Thousand White Women" (1998)
by Jim Fergus

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1957, Samuel Beckett's "Endgame" was first performed, in London, in French. "Waiting for Godot" had premiered in 1953 and become an international sensation, but Beckett could find no one in France willing to risk their theater on a new play which featured one character who could not stand, one who could not sit and two others unable to come out of their garbage cans. He had written the play in French and wanted a French premiere, but when the Royal Court Theatre offered their space, Beckett agreed to travel.

That he regretted it had more to do with Beckett than the poor reviews. Having been horrified at much of what producers, directors and actors had done to "Godot" -- "It's ahl wrahng! He's doing it ahl wrahng!" he'd whispered throughout that London premiere -- Beckett had written precise stage and acting directions into "Endgame." Not being hopeful about writing in the first place -- "there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express" -- Beckett found collaboration with his English producer and French director to be agony. Nor was day-to-day living one of Beckett's strengths. He hid from reporters at the theater and from acquaintances in his London hotel and flew home before the opening.

He returned 18 months later for the English-language premiere, this time in a double-bill with "Krapp's Last Tape." The personal agony continued, and judging by Kenneth Tynan's parody-review entitled "Slamm's Last Knock," the critical misunderstanding was worse:

"Foreground figure a blind and lordly cripple with superficial mannerisms ... Sawn-off parents in bins, stage right, and shuffling servant all over the stage ...

Slamm: Is that all the review he's getting?
Seck: That's all the play he's written.
Slamm: But a genius. Could you do as much?
Seck. Not as much. But as little."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," email Steve King.

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