Monday, 2 April 2012

Samuel Beckett's new suit

Beckett in his new suit in 1938 after it had been altered in Dublin

'...the suit is lovely except that it doesn't fit anywhere'.

It is the year 1936 and Samuel Beckett is living with his mother at the family home of Cooldrinagh in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock. Some years earlier he had resigned his post of lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, and had recently undergone psychiatric therapy at the Tavistock Clinic in London. Now, back in Dublin, he is broke, unemployed, and quite likes getting drunk.

He mother is frantic for him to find employment, and he persuades her to fund a trip he could make to Germany in order to study paintings with a view to finding a post of curator of an art gallery. His mother agrees, and on the morning of 28 September 1936 he sets off for six months of wanderings around the newly created Third Reich. 

The trip is long and at times tiring, and towards the end he finds himself in the town of Bamburg, where he has a strange encounter with a tailor.

The man pours his soul out to Beckett: his poor health, his debts, even evokes his old war wound. Ever compassionate, Sam asks the man to make him a suit in 'midnight blue'. The tailor quickly produces a tape measure, takes Sam's measurements, suggests a special cloth, and gives a cost of 120 marks. Beckett pays 35 marks deposit and they arrange a fitting several days later in Nuremberg. 

Sam waits in Nuremberg, but there is no news from the tailor. Is he being swindled, he wonders. The tailor finally calls and tells Sam he will be coming by train. Beckett goes to the station but there is no sign of the man. He finally comes on a later train, what he calls an 'extra', and has the coat with him, but not the trousers. 

Sam tries the coat. The tailor praises the woof, the weight, says his own next suit will be of no other material. Sam is now convinced that he is being done, but consoles himself that he is not being done 'in the eye'. He writes in his diary:

'The difference between being done and done in the eye is in first case one knows and in second not. He thinks he is doing me in the eye, whereas he is only doing me.'

The fitting is done and the tailor departs. Several days later the finished suit arrives by post in Munich. Sam opens the package, looks at the suit, describes it as 'of grotesque cut, coat too big and trousers too short, but blue'. He writes a letter to the tailor telling him 'the suit is lovely except that it doesn't fit anywhere'. Later that day Sam buys a white silk shirt to go with the suit. He tries it on and finds it 'too big and beastly cut, but white'.

Shortly afterwards he returns to Ireland.

[Source: Damned to Fame, The Life of Samuel Beckett by James Knowlson]

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