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.
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.