It was Samuel Beckett's first complete play, and the only one he wrote that was three acts. Written in 1947, it was the play he completed just before Waiting for Godot.
Whether the Irish-born dramatist and novelist did, or did not, want Eleutheria published, it is scheduled for publication in late April by Foxrock Inc. and for distribution by Four Walls Eight Windows. The play's translation, from French to English, is by Michael Brodsky. "It's a very important clue to the rest of Beckett's work that followed it," says Barney Rosset, publisher of Blue Moon Press. Rosset, together with the co-publishers of Four Walls Eight Windows, John Oakes and Dan Simon, founded Foxrock, Inc. in September 1994. "It foreshadows Waiting for Godot and Krapp's Last Tape very sharply."
As the former publisher of Grove Press, Rosset was the first to publish Beckett's work (much of which was written in French) in this country. He was Beckett's American publisher and a close friend to the author for nearly three decades.
When Jerome Lindon, publisher of Edition de Minuit in France, who heads the executor of the Beckett Estate in Paris, found out in the Fall of 1994 about Foxrock's intention of publishing Eleutheria, Lindon counterattacked with threats of legal action, according to Oakes.
But, in January, Lindon sent a letter to Rosset explaining that although he was still against Eleutheria's publication by Foxrock, he would not interfere with it.
Furthermore, "We learned last week [in mid-February] that he is planning to release his own edition of the play," Oakes says.
Rosset says there were times Beckett wanted, and didn't want, Eleutheria published. Beckett's last decision was not to have it published, says Rosset. He says the situation concerning Eleutheria compares to a similar situation involving Beckett's play Mercier and Camier. Beckett refused to allow that work to be published for more than 20 years, according to Rosset. But Mercier and Camier was published in 1970 in France, and in 1974 by Grove in this country. "I have a letter from him [Beckett], written in his 60s, saying he had refused a French publisher permission to publish it.... But then he changed his mind and he translated it himself. I believe he would have done the same thing with Eleutheria, if he lived a little longer," says Oakes. Beckett died in 1989.
Eleutheria is a bourgeois comedy about a young writer who decides to estrange himself from his family. "Most of the action centers around exchanges of conversation, ideas and wit," Oakes says.
Oakes says the controversy surrounding whether or not Beckett wanted Eleutheria published is not as important as the fact that "there is a finished play by Samuel Beckett and it ought to be seen by the reading public to let people judge for themselves [about the play's merits]. We don't deny that Beckett didn't want it published.
"To me it's almost a moral obligation to do this book," he continues. "So we formed a new company, Foxrock--named after the place Beckett was born in Ireland. The point is that to fully appreciate the scope of Beckett's work, you ought to know about this play. This is a complete work by one of the country's greatest authors, perhaps one of the greatest authors ever."
Oakes compared the situation concerning Eleutheria to the publication of Franz Kafka's works after he died. "Kafka, on his death bed, wanted all his writing to be destroyed and his close friend and publisher, Max Brod, said fine," Oakes says. "And when Kafka died, he [Brod] didn't do that. And, of course, it would have been quite a shame if he had followed Kafka's wishes."
After having several translations completed, and with Foxrock refusing to use any of them, the work was translated by playwright and novelist Brodsky, whose * * * (that's the actual title) was published by Four Walls Eight Windows. "He knows Beckett's work very, very well," Oakes says.--J.L.P.