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Arland Ussher on Godot etc., (circa 1955)

Letter from the papers of Lady Glenavy. To her husband from Arland Ussher.

Percival "Percy" Arland Ussher (1899 -1980) was an Anglo-Irish academic, essayist and translator. He published The Face and Mind of Ireland (1949) and Three Great Irishmen (1952), a comparative study of Shaw, Yeats, and Joyce. This letter gives a good, and reasonably sympathetic, view of Beckett's masterwork as it was seen at the time that it was first performed.

Charles Henry Gordon Campbell, 2nd Baron Glenavy (1885–1963) was a barrister who married Beatrice the artist Elvery. He was a contemporary of D. H. Lawrence, to whom he was introduced by Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry. Known as Gordon Campbell, he served as Secretary of the new Department of Industry and Commerce. He was appointed a director of the Bank of Ireland. He and his wife were on the fringes of the Bloomsbury set.

I8 Green Rd
Blackrock
Dear Glenavy,
  Thanks for your interesting letter. It's always good to hear these fellows attacked. They get away with it too easily. But still..
  When we came out from GODOT I said to my companion, & heard other people saying:
Let's go have a drink.
- No good, it's much too late. Everything shuts.
- Let's go to XX
- No. Too far. I haven't enough petrol.
- We'll find somehwere we can have coffee.
- Oh it's too much of a crush at this hour.
    I want to go to bed.
- It's so late, I know I shan't sleep.
- Why did we come? - Oh we had to see Godot.
 Then I realised, with a start, that this was the very language of the play. It's the way we talk nine-tenths of this span which is life - not knowing why we do what we do or why we can't do what we want to do. To have put it all in a play - which is not merely dreary but diverting, not merely cynical but with a note of nostalgia - that seems to me something of an artistic achievement. There have been other such plays ("realistic", isn't that the word?), but they show you people in a tenement house - or else in marble halls - as if the problem were merely a social or local one. The two tramps at the cross-roads, with a single tree (unsuited for hanging oneself) - that makes it eternal, like Adam or Oedipus or Omar at his party.

However, the effect is already wearing off. The essentials of life soon become boring. It's the inessentials - the masks and not the skeleton - which are important, as Wilde would have said.

(Chekhov moves one perhaps because he sensed the skeleton under the flesh - like the family doctor who is also a poet. Life was still warm, but there was death in the air.)

As for Lawrence, surely it's that "not particularly emotional feeling for non-human nature, which he conveys in an original manner" that is the point. An emotional feeling for human nature is easy; an emotional feeling for non-human nature is in the end a little patronising. One must strip off one's emotions to approach the non-human - enter the non-human mode, make the high jump, dive off the deep end, or what you will. Lawrence seems to me to point the way. But I grant that both he and Beckett are a little sententious and declamatory: preachers both.

 I am with you about Whitehead and his horrible wife. My God, that such an idiot should be called a philosopher.
Forgive all this stuff.
Yours,
Arland Ussher

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