Around France

Samuel Beckett in Roussillon, France

The red hills of Roussillon are an inspiration for artists, but I had no idea about the likes of author Samuel Becket in Roussillon.

Riding through the winding roads of the Luberon, I was amazed to see massive red hills as I approached Roussillon. They seemed to appear from nowhere.

“How is it possible for so much red to be in one place?” I said to myself.

Soon I learned how important the red hills are to Roussillon’s history.  Like a stoplight, Roussillon bids that all who pass stay for awhile.

Visit Roussillon

Red hills of Roussillon

You only have to look around to understand why artists love Roussillon. It was a surprise to me, however, to discover how many great authors passed this way.

For example, Peter Mayle’s best-selling book, A Year in Provence, was inspired by Roussillon. Laurence Wylie’s, A Village in the Vaucluse, was set there too. It was the fact that Samuel Beckett lived in Roussillon that really surprised me. In fact, life in the 1940s village greatly affected his writing, most notably, his play, “Waiting for Godot” (En Attendant Godot).

I remember seeing “Waiting for Godot” many years ago at the Playmaker’s Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC. With season tickets to the University of North Carolina theatre, I saw many popular plays performed by the renowned repertoire cast. To me, “Waiting for Godot” was one of the best. In its simplicity, the play spoke volumes.

Perhaps it was “Waiting for Godot” that convinced me I had to travel and see the world.

Indeed, I was not going to spend my life “Waiting for Godot.” 

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Caspar David Friedrich’s painting may have inspired “Waiting for Godot.”

Samuel Beckett’s Roussillon

It is said that Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Godot” because of a painting by German artist Caspar David Friedrich. The painting is of two people standing on a pathway staring at the moon to describe it simply.  Beckett’s storyline has pretty much the same theme. The entire play takes place on one spot on the road, beside a tree.

The play is viewed as a masterpiece of postmodernism. Indeed the author paints a simple, rather vague picture of the village, Roussillon.  Some say the characters and their stories are straight out of life in and around the 1940’s village and the War.

For example, the character Vladimir speaks of ochre quarries and picking grapes for a man named Bonnelly. Tales of starvation, hiding in trenches, and threats of beatings are, perhaps, Beckett’s own remembrances of time with the French  Resistance. He pictures Lucky, a starving man, tied to a paunchy man with a whip, Pozzo — a scene that calls up thoughts of Nazi concentration camps. Beckett winds all these tales together with vaudeville humor and mime.

Written in French

Perhaps the most astounding fact about Beckett, to this American who somehow refuses to learn French, is that he wrote his most famous works in French. Yes, an Irishman from Dublin chose to pen in French. To Beckett, English was too literal.  He could write in a more colloquial style in French.

Beckett preferred to express himself in French even in his last work,  a poem entitled “Comment Dire.”

In 1988 Beckett was diagnosed with aphasia, a condition defined as the “loss of speech, partial or total, or loss of power to understand written or spoken language, resulting from a disorder of the cerebral speech centers” (OED). Before he died, he regained his ability to speak and to read. His writing, again, showed his determination to understand the unexplainable. “Comment Dire,” “How do you say,” with its dashes and repetitions, shows an artist’s everlasting search for words. 

Visit RoussillonSamuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot”



For more about Roussillon:

Why Roussillon is “Red”: Fact and Fable

Fall … In Love With Provence

Lost in the Luberon: Gordes, Goult and Menerbes

4 replies »

  1. Very interesting topic. I wrote a paper about Waiting for Godot being a historical not an absurd play taking place in occupied France during World War II which is currently under review. I compared the French original with the English and the German translations. Went to Roussillon with my family in 2016 and stayed there for a week. Absolutely amazing. Please excuse my English, I´m German.

    • I would love to know more about your paper. I totally agree it was historical, not just imaginative. Thank you so much for your note. Please stay in touch and tell me the outcome of your review.

  2. I read Waiting for Godot years ago and really enjoyed it, so this year I read it again in French and enjoyed it just as much. It was first written in French and I learned that Beckett did his own translation, making subtle changes as he did–generally making the play even more minimalist! It would be fun to compare them someday.

    • Oh that I could read a book in French, Keith. Way to go! Let me know when you do the comparison of translations. Sounds like a great story for you to write! Thanks for the note and the information about Beckett.

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