This essay explores the depiction of the degenerating male form in Samuel Beckett’s post-World War II trilogy of novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable) in the context of Vichy France’s ideology of the body—specifically the male body—and the propaganda of the regime’s Révolution nationale, which Beckett would have encountered in wartime France. Read with this historical situation in mind, this essay argues that Beckett’s move from the limping Molloy to the bed-bound Malone and finally to the physically limbless figure of The Unnamable gives expression to a reality of physical deterioration that is unique to the degenerating body, a reality that also inverts the ideal of physical perfection that regimes such as Vichy produced. Analyzed in this way, Beckett’s work can be seen to aggravate and challenge both Vichy’s idolization of the strong, athletic male form and the ways in which Vichy and other midcentury ideologies produced narratives of the body steeped in a narrow and ultimately violent essentialism.
Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy and the Revolution of the Body in Vichy France
William Davies is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Reading. He specializes in modernism, war writing, and post-1945 English poetry. Recent essays include “Donald Davie and Englishness,” published in Review of English Studies. He is the author of Samuel Beckett and the Second World War (2020) and coeditor with Helen Bailey of Beckett and Politics (2020).
William Davies; Samuel Beckett’s Trilogy and the Revolution of the Body in Vichy France. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 March 2020; 66 (1): 11–36. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8196685
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