When and how did Beckett find his voice? A reader’s report on Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which he completed in 1932, declared: “I wouldn’t touch this with a barge pole. Beckett probably is a clever fellow, but here he has elaborated a slavish, & rather incoherent imitation of Joyce…also indecent.” In 1936 a reader of Beckett’s poetry wrote, “I get some sort of idea of the kind of person S.B. is, I learn that he knows Dublin, has read Joyce, and gets a lyrical experience from things which used to be thought not to give it,” but went on to add that the poems themselves were unreadable. “Who is, or will be, his audience?… How, in short, is he to be read, and what is the advantage of reading him?”
These questions are not unfair. If some of the stories in More Pricks Than Kicks (1934) seem to point the way forward, that’s because we know the path is there. Beckett was always looking for an excuse to stop writing. In 1936, when he was struggling to publish Murphy, he complained, “I do not feel like spending the rest of my life writing books that no one will read. It is not as though I wanted to write them.” The cheerful paradox is that from this very conviction—we are all doomed to labor fruitlessly and witlessly at pointless tasks—his greatest art was born.