Beckett & Italy

We are delighted to announce a two-conference series
University of Reading (7-8 November 2019)
Sapienza” Università di Roma (May 2020)

Can’t conceive by what stretch of ingenuity my work could be placed under the sign of italianità… There are a number of Italian elements [in my work]…
(SB to AJ Leventhal, 21 April 1958)

Beckett and Italy. As a student at Trinity College Dublin, Beckett studied Italian language and literature, and cultivated them privately with Bianca Esposito, the signorina Adriana Ottolenghi of ‘Dante and the Lobster’. They discussed the writers on his syllabus: Machiavelli, Petrarca, Manzoni, Boccaccio and Tasso, to name a few. His most striking encounter was with Dante – he read the Commedia many times throughout his life – and he also discovered a particular affinity with Leopardi. As a student, he wrote essays on Carducci and D’Annunzio. He attempted translations of Dante into English in letters and notebooks, and wrote a curious dialogue in German based on Ariosto’s Orlando furioso. In 1930, he published translations into English of Montale’s poem ‘Delta’ and texts by Franchi and Comisso. For a good part of his formative years, Beckett really was, as Walter Draffin in Dream of Fair to Middling Women, an “Italianate Irishman”. His interest extended well beyond literature. For example, he read the philosophical investigations of Bruno, Campanella, Thomas Aquinas and Vico. Moreover, he was interested in Italian music, was fascinated by Italian art, and followed with curiosity the experiments of Neorealist cinema. Yet Beckett’s relation to Italian culture is far from unambiguous. For example, despite his knowledge of the language, Beckett’s involvement with the Italian translation of his work was negligible. Comments like the one quoted above, where, while denying the “italianità” of his work, he draws attention to “a number of Italian elements” in it, are a testament to both the ambiguity and the vitality of this relationship. These two conferences aim to re-assess the influence that Italian culture, literature, poetry, theatre, arts and cinema had on Beckett’s works, even beyond what he was willing to recognise.

Italy and Beckett. When Godot was first performed in Italy in 1953, the first Italian-language production coming a year later, Beckett was greeted as a playwright who belonged to the Theatre of the Absurd. Meanwhile his prose was mostly ignored or disregarded as minor. Eventually, Beckett found his place in literature, art, and popular culture; it is significant, in this light, that Calvino turned to him, in the last years of his life, and looked positively at his minimalism in Six Memos for the Next Millennium. Writers and artists felt – as they do today – the need to respond to the Beckett phenomenon, even if only to condemn his ‘literature without style’. Theatre directors welcomed his experiments and continue to propose innovative productions of his work. Critics have analysed him comparatively with writers like Pirandello, Levi and Gadda. More recently, much attention has been paid to the ties between Beckett’s writing and the philosophy of Agamben. In more general terms, there is room to investigate the way Beckett can help the exploration of the new avenues opened by the so-called ‘Italian Theory’, and, conversely, how the conceptual tools offered by this trend of thought can shed a different light on Beckett’s work. The recent publication of the Italian translation of Beckett’s letters seems to align with this continued Italian interest in Beckett. On the other hand, the fact that it is still difficult to find his work in bookshops, confirms the ambiguity of Beckett’s position in Italian culture. Each of these conferences aims to reconsider the impact of Beckett’s work on Italian culture.

For the conference at Reading, we encourage submissions focused on, but not limited to, the followings areas:

  • Beckett and Italian culture (literature, philosophy, poetry, art, cinema, music, science, theatre, radio);
  • Beckett, Italian Philosophy, and ‘Italian Theory’;
  • Beckett, Italian Language, and Translation;
  • Beckett, Italian Publishing Houses and Market;
  • Beckett and Italian Criticism;
  • Beckett and Italian Popular Culture;
  • Beckett and Italian Theatre;
  • Beckett, Italy and Poetry;
  • Beckett and Italian Arts;
  • Beckett and Italian Politics, and Bio-politics.

Confirmed Keynotes (Reading):
Prof. David Houston Jones (University of Exeter)
Dr. Rossana Sebellin (University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’)
Prof. Mariacristina Cavecchi (University of Milan)
Dr Pim Verhulst (University of Antwerp)

Further information about keynotes will be announced soon.

Submission of proposal:
For the conference in Reading, please send anonymised abstracts, in English, of 300–500 words to with a separate short bio of no more than 150 words by 16 June 2019.

For more information, please email

A separate call for papers will be circulated for the conference in Rome after November 2019.

Dr Michela Bariselli (University of Reading)
Antonio Gambacorta (University of Reading)
Dr Davide Crosara (University of Rome, Sapienza)
Prof. Mario Martino (University of Rome, Sapienza)

Editing Modernist Letters Workshop

Thursday 2nd November 2017

Venue: Special Collections/MERL, University of Reading, 6 Redlands Rd, Reading, RG1 5EX


The archival turn in modernist studies has been closely intertwined with the publication of private correspondence. From the complicated saga of the T.S. Eliot correspondence editions to the recently completed Letters of Samuel Beckett, the publication of letters continues to bring new insight into the relationships, creative networks and compositional practices of literary modernists. The next decade will bring new editions of letters by authors including Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis, as well as innovative digital publications such as the Modernist Archives Publishing Project.

Published correspondence is shaped by an editorial process that involves selection, annotation, transcription and ethical concerns. Editors are faced with numerous questions: Which letters shed light on the author’s work? Can some letters be read as creative texts? Will a critical apparatus elucidate or stifle? How best to present fragments and lacunae? In answering these questions the editor plays both a practical and an interpretative role, all the while engaged in a game of diplomacy with publishing houses and literary estates. Their choices alter biographical narratives and direct the flow of future scholarship.

This one day workshop seeks to bring together students and scholars with interests in archival research and textual editing, focusing on the theme of editing modernist letters. It opens up the questions and challenges of the editorial process through a combination of hands-on workshop sessions and keynote papers, culminating in a roundtable discussion. The workshop is supported by the Samuel Beckett Research Centre.


Workshop Programme:

9.45am           Registration and coffee

10.15               Welcome and introduction

10.30               Keynote from Joanne Winning, On Editing Dorothy Richardson’s Correspondence

11.30               Keynote from Nicola Wilson, ‘Feminism, Metadata, and Labours Lost at the Modernist Archives Publishing Project’

12.30pm         Lunch

1.30                 Workshop session on James Joyce’s letters, led by William Brockman

3.30                 Coffee break

4.00                 Workshop session on Samuel Beckett’s letters, led by Mark Nixon

5.00                 Wine break

5.30                 Roundtable



Notes on Speakers:

Joanne Winning (Birkbeck, University of London) is editing Dorothy Richardson’s letters as part of the Richardson Editions Project. There has been a resurgence of interest in Richardson as a pioneering modernist writer, and this AHRC funded project will produce ten volumes of scholarly editions of her letters and fiction.

Nicola Wilson (University of Reading) is a specialist in publishing history and print culture, and a member of the Modernist Archives Publishing Project team. MAPP is an innovative digital resource that includes the archives of publishing houses such as the Hogarth Press and Chatto & Windus.

William Brockman (Penn State University) is part of editorial team for the forthcoming OUP editions of James Joyce’s unpublished letters. His workshop session will include will include hands on group work using facsimile copies of several Joyce letters.

Mark Nixon (University of Reading) is director of the Beckett International Foundation and editor of the forthcoming edition of Beckett’s German Diaries. His workshop session will focus on a selection of Beckett’s letters from the Beckett archive at Reading.


To register please follow this link:

Tickets: £20 full price, £15 students and unwaged

For any questions or further information please email us at


Organisers: Lucy Jeffery, Xander Ryan and Giovanna Vincenti

Beckett & Politics

A huge thank you to all who joined us at the Beckett & Politics conference, we hope that that the papers and keynotes opened up as many new avenues of inquiry as possible and we look forward to continuing the debates and conversations that arose throughout the conference.

If you would like to get in touch for queries, details or further discussions, the organisers are happy to answer email correspondence:

Will Davies:

Michela Bariselli:

Niamh Bowe:

Helen Bailey:



Thursday 3 November

08:45               Coffee & registration

09:30               Welcome

09:45               Keynote 1

Matthew Feldman      Beckett’s Nominalist Politics

10:45               Coffee

11:15               Compassion & Violence

Elsa Baroghel              ‘indoor bowers of bliss’: Mental asylums in Samuel Beckett’s works

Andy Wimbush         Beckett’s Transgressive Compassion: How It Is, and the ‘natural order’

Paul Stewart                Molloy, Violence and the Politics of Inclusion

12:45               Lunch

13:45               Capitalism (Chair: Zoe Gosling)

Rodney Sharkey            ‘I am in my mother’s room. It is I who live there now’: Beckett and the Politics of Distance

Llewellyn Brown        Samuel Beckett and the body of the speaking being: Politics for Today

Martin Schauss            ‘Into what nightmare thingness am I fallen?’: The Politics of Matter in Samuel Beckett’s Short Stories

15:15               Coffee

15:45               Sex  

Lloyd Houston                    Samuel Beckett and the Politics of Venereal Disease

Alan Graham                       ‘Abort and blush like new’: eugenics and narrative in Beckett

Giovanna Vincenti           A Portrait of the Artist as Young ‘Postwar Degenerate’ – Samuel Beckett and Max Nordau’s Degeneration

17:00               Coffee

17:20               Keynote 2

Elizabeth Barry                    Beckett, Disability and Performance: The Case of Endgame

18:20               Closing remarks

18:30               Wine reception (Minghella)



Friday 4 November

08:30               Coffee & registration

09:15               Representation and Subjectivity

Galina Kiryushina              ‘This little people of searchers’: Politics of Re-Presentation in The Lost Ones

Thomas Thoelen                ‘the cerebellum on fire’: Beckett and the (Techno)Politics of the Brain

James Little                          ‘First the place, then I’ll find me in it’: Beckett’s Pronouns and the Politics of Confinement

Douglas Atkinson              Silent Sovereignty: Laclau and Beckett on Language and Freedom

11:00               Coffee

11:15               Postcolonial Ireland

Scott Hamilton                   ‘delivering … The Ossianic goods’: Beckett and the Politics of Irish Orientalism

Brendan Dowling              Beckett’s evolving treatment of the subaltern figure in his early prose fiction.

Feargal Whelan                  A coffin full of stones and a submarine: Echo’s Bones and 1930s Irish political mythology

12:30                             Lunch

13:15               Gender (Chair: Trish McTighe)

Kumiko Kiuchi                     Age, Posture, Sexuality: Reading Happy Days in the Light of “Aristotle and Phyllis”

Helen Bailey                        (En)gendering spirit: Beckett’s Eve/Mary Sirens

14:30               Coffee

14:45               Political Events (Chair: Rodney Sharkey)

Matt McFrederick    ‘The air is full of our cries’: Staging Beckett during apartheid in South Africa

Katya Gosteva               Beckett’s Watt as a war-novel and the problem of identity

Natalie Leeder            ‘What is the wrong word the evil spread’: a politics of evil?

Hannah Simpson        Samuel Beckett and the Nobel Catastrophe

16:30               Coffee

16:45                       Keynote 3

Daniela Caselli           Beckett, Gender and the Politics of Humanism

17:45                       Closing remarks

Beckett Week

Beckett Week at the University of Reading (2-5 November 2016)
The Beckett at Reading team is happy to announce the following events, which will take place during our ‘Beckett Week’:
Lisa Dwan: ‘A Beckett Actor’ – The Billie Whitelaw Lecture (6pm, 2 November 2016)

Acclaimed Beckett actress, Lisa Dwan, who has performed in Beckett’s plays across the globe, will speak about performing in Beckett and about her mentor Billie Whitelaw, Beckett’s favourite actress. Lisa met Billie when she was preparing for a production of Beckett’s challenging play, Not I, and Billie passed her notes from Beckett on to Lisa. We are delighted to welcome Lisa Dwan back to Reading, following her virtuoso performance of a selection of Beckett’s prose for performance entitled No’s Knife at London’s Old Vic Theatre. 
The lecture will be followed by a Wine Reception, and the Launch of the Billie Whitelaw Exhibition, which will for the first time show items from Billie Whitelaw’s Beckett Theatrical Collection, acquired by the Beckett International Foundation last year.
Registration and Details:

Beckett and Politics Conference (3-4 November 2016)

Organised by the Beckett at Reading Postgraduate Group (BARP), the exciting theme of ‘Beckett and Politics’ will be discussed through panel
presentations and keynotes by Matthew Feldman, Elizabeth Barry and Daniela Caselli. All scholars, students, and enthusiasts are welcome.

Registration for the conference:

Mary Bryden Tribute Day (5 November 2016)

A tribute day for the late, much loved Mary Bryden, Professor of French Studies at the University of Reading, and Co-Director of the Beckett International Foundation, who died a year ago.
The day will start (at 12 noon) with a lecture by Emeritus Professor Jim Knowlson on Beckett and Billie Whitelaw. In the afternoon, there will be an academic panel which will reflect on aspects of Mary’s research in French Studies and Beckett Studies. This will be followed by personal and musical tributes from Mary’s colleagues and friends, and readings from Mary’s own creative writing. The event is free and will include lunch and a drinks reception at the end of the day. 
Registration and Details:
All events take place in the Minghella Building, Whiteknights Campus, The University of Reading. Registration is necessary for all events – please do so as soon as possible so we can book catering as necessary.
For queries about any of these events, please email Mark Nixon (
We look forward to seeing you; with best wishes from all of us
The Beckett at Reading Team

Conference Registration

Please find below the registration link for the Beckett and Politics Conference, November 2016. Fees include lunch each day, tea and coffee breaks and an evening wine reception:

Registration Link – click here

The provisional schedule for the conference can be found below:

Provisional Schedule – click here

Accommodation and travel advice can be found at the link below:

Accommodation and Travel – click here

For any enquiries please email


Beckett and Politics

Beckett and Politics


3rd-4th November, 2016

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Daniela Caselli (University of Manchester), Matthew Feldman (Teesside University), Elizabeth Barry (University of Warwick)

Samuel Beckett is often hailed as the epitome of the ahistorical and apolitical writer. His work has been characterised by a poetics of ‘impotence and ignorance’ that makes use of aporia, silence, indifference, resistance to narrative and a disconnection from contextual time and space. However, to what extent has the political nature of Beckett’s aesthetic been overlooked?

Throughout his life and career, Beckett encountered an exceptional range of extreme political ideologies in Twentieth Century Europe. His background as an Anglo-Irish Protestant in the Irish Saorstat, his documented wandering through Nazi Germany in 1936-37, his decision to leave neutral Ireland during World War Two and subsequent role in the French Resistance, his encounters with Irish and British censorship throughout his career, and his support of political causes throughout his writing life such as anti-apartheid in South Africa and the imprisonment of Václav Havel all suggest that the politics of Beckett’s biography and writing is a ripe area for discussion. The various modernisms that emerged in Ireland, Britain, France and Germany also heavily influenced Beckett as a young writer, however, the political aspects of artistic movements in the Twentieth Century have yet to be wholly accounted for in terms of Beckett’s works.

Given that Beckett resisted the ‘neatness’ of political and historical identification, to what extent has scholarship been influenced by Beckett’s own statements? Following on from Peter Boxall’s call to reassess the limits imposed upon Beckett’s work by the ‘overemphasis of his political neutrality’ (2002), the political context and value of  Beckett’s works has become an important question in Beckett scholarship. However, this is an area that has yet to be fully explored. Scholarship such as Séan Kennedy’s edited volume Beckett and Ireland (2010) and the Historicising Modernism series has shown the value of combining conceptual and contextual approaches as well as indicating the necessity for further consideration of the methodologies used in Beckett criticism.

Beckett’s aesthetic representation of disabled figures, failure, violence, gender, poverty and voicelessness all suggest the possibilities of a fruitful engagement with many strands of current political and critical theory. In connection, Beckett’s appropriation into  advertising promotions and protest theatre also raises specifically contemporary political problems, as does the role of government and institutional funding in the study of Beckett’s work. How then might we begin to consider Beckett’s work to be political and what problems are brought up by the possible rejection of the political in his work? Is literature always in some sense political and in relation to this is interpretation always political? How can we read the nuances of the political and critical difficulties present in Beckett’s work? How do such considerations contribute to wider inter-disciplinary studies of Politics and Art?

The Beckett at Reading Postgraduate and Early Career (BARP) group are pleased to announce their second international conference hosted at the University of Reading. The conference will address the theme of ‘Beckett and Politics’ with the aim of exploring and exchanging new scholarship in this understudied area of Beckett’s life and writing.  The conference will be a part of the ‘Beckett Week’, organised by Beckett at Reading and the Beckett International Foundation, with public talks, an event commemorating Mary Bryden and a Billie Whitelaw exhibition.

The conference committee welcome submissions from scholars from all disciplines, with a particular emphasis on encouraging the participation of postgraduate and early career researchers. Papers on topics related to Beckett’s work may include, but are not limited to, such areas as:

  • The rise of extreme political ideologies in the Twentieth Century
  • Location, nation and nationalism
  • Ireland and the Irish Free State
  • Political references and allusion in Beckett’s texts
  • Art, writing and interpretation as political statement
  • Writer as figure in (political) exile
  • Censorship
  • Politics of performance
  • Performance, prose and poetry as testimony
  • The politics of Modernism, Late Modernism and Postmodernism
  • (Post)colonialism/Eurocentrism
  • The body politic
  • Gender and/or Sexuality
  • Beckett and Capitalism
  • Manuscripts, archives and methodologies
  • The politics of criticism
  • Institutions and government policy
  • Beckett as non-political, apolitical or possibly anti-political


Please send anonymised abstracts of no more than 300 words and a separate biography of no more than 150 words (.pdf or .docx), and any informal inquiries, to by the 22ND July, 2016.

Upcoming meetings

A belated happy new year one and all!
This Thursday the Forum will be getting together to discuss ‘Three Dialogues’ and ‘Homage to Jack B Yeats’. If you happen to be in Reading and would like to join us for a bit of wintry Beckett chat then please email for the details.
On February 11th, James Baxter will be kicking off this year’s presentations with a paper titled “Beckett and the ‘fourth possibility’ in US postmodernism”. Again, all are welcome.