Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Waiting for who?

In a previous post, A Walk Along High Street, I wrote about the artist Lucien Boucher and his beautiful lithographs for Boutiques, published in 1925. Today I have had reason to look at these again, and in particular the lithograph Marbrier, with its wonderful diminishing perspective down a street lined with undertakers and monumental masons.

Lucien Boucher, Marbrier
Original lithograph, 1925

And then I started reading the short accompanying text by Pierre Mac Orlan. And found myself reading, "Entrez donc, monsieur Godeau. Nous vous attendions..." - Come in, Mr Godeau, we were waiting for you...

So now I'm dying to know if Samuel Beckett knew Pierre Mac Orlan. He almost certainly will have come across him in the Parisian literary world. Mac Orlan (1882-1970) was a friend of Francis Carco, and like him was entranced by the seamy underside of the city. Mac Orlan, by the way, is probably the only writer in the history of literature to reserve his real name – Pierre Dumarchey – for his pornographic works, while publishing all his respectable writings under a pseudonym.

Here's my attempt at a quick translation of Mac Orlan's text; corrections and improvements are welcome!

The Monumental Mason

“Good day, madame. Is your husband, the mason, here yet?”
“Come, in, monsieur Godeau. We were waiting for you, and your friend.”
The mason’s wife smiled, a warm plate in her hands.
The pallbearer Godeau introduced the young Englishman in khaki uniform.
“Monsieur Hamlet…”
The mason’s wife bowed.
She looked intently at the young Hamlet. And her amazing imagination played across her face like the glimmer of a flashlight.
What could that idiot Godeau tell her about Hamlet?

There's so much here that resonates with Beckett - not just the name Godeau (which is a genuine French surname, but here probably has a slang connotation to do with gode, a dildo, and goder, to have an erection), but words you can taste in your mouth like croque-mort. Most of all there is the identity of Godeau's khaki-clad companion, the young Hamlet - because Hamlet stands behind Waiting for Godot just as Waiting for Godot stands behind Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. And of course the funereal setting of Mac Orlan's little absurdist scene would have appealed to Beckett.


Philip Wilkinson said...

Fascinating. There a Godeau, for whom people wait, in Balzac, though Beckett said he'd not read Le Faiseur, in which this alleged proto-Godot appears. And I can see no reference in the index of Deirdre Bair's biography of Beckett to either of Mac Orlan's names (I don't have any of the more recent Beckett biographies). I'm sure there's been a lot of speculation over the origin of the name Godot, but don't know if this avenue has been pursued. Whatever the truth of the matter, I'm sure Beckett, with his grave concerns (he, or his narrator in First Love, had 'no bone to pick with graveyards' and didn't I read somewhere that his apartment overlooked a cemetery?) and his brave humour, would have been amused.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Sorry - it was a prison his apartment overlooked, not a cemetery. Happy Days.

Anonymous said...

What I like about the picture, aside from the strong graphics, is the way you do a double take when you realize the subject matter. Is this the same Lucien Boucher who did the charming travel posters? It's the same period, but if so - talk about versatility.

Neil said...

Yes, this is the same artist as the Art Deco travel posters. A very neglected figure, I think. It's interesting he was able to transfer the graphic strength of larege-scale posters to really quite small lithographs like the ones for Boutiques.

Neil said...

When I was at school someone told me a story about Beckett walking in a Paris park on a beautiful spring day with someone who said, "This is the kind of day that makes you glad to be alive." Beckett looked at him (or her) dubiously. "I wouldn't go so far as that."

Roxana said...

Hi, I've just discovered your blog - via japonisme, you've got so much fascinating stuff here! thank you and I'll surely come back to read more.

Neil said...

Thanks, Roxana. Japonisme is one of my favourite blogs.

Paul Pincus said...

fascinating post! cheers, -paul

Ravilious and Bawden Blog said...

Don't know if you have seen this - http://www.pennilesspress.co.uk/prose/mac_orlan.htm
but it establishes a link between Beckett and Orlan. See the 4th from last paragraph.

Neil said...

Thanks so much for this fascinating link, Tim. I haven't read such an informative piece about Mac Orlan before, and it is wonderful to have a definite link between him and Beckett.

Larry Lund said...

In the newly published Letters of Samuel Beckett Vol. II p.211, Beckett in a letter to Georges Duthuit dated Dec 1950, asks, "I felt sickened when all of a sudden I remembered Jouhandeau's M. Godeau intime. I am trying to replace Godot by another name, and cannot find one. Do you think I have to?"

Neil said...

How interesting, Larry. M. Godeau intime was published in 1926, the year after Boutiques - but it may well be that the name had stuck in Beckett's subconscious from reading Jouhandeau rather than this very obscure prose poem by Mac Orlan.