Old Age and Samuel Beckett’s Late Works


  • Chris Gilleard University College London




Old age featured in Samuel Beckett’s plays and novels throughout his literary career. This paper explores the question of how—or indeed if—Beckett’s own experience of aging and old age affected the representation of age in his late works. Focusing upon his last two trilogies, the plays Not I, Footfalls, and Rockaby and the novellas Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, and Worstward Ho, I argue that Beckett’s late-life literary preoccupations were little affected by the corporeality of his own aging. Even in the last year of his life, he still sought to put down through dramatic images and words the ontological issues that had always concerned him. Hopes that his own old age might lead him closer to the edge—closer to what has been termed “the event horizon of the fourth age,” where subjectivity implodes—were not fulfilled, although arguably he did feel, at times, that he was getting closer to it, stylistically perhaps, if not in substance. To what extent Beckett’s later works serve as examples of a “late style” and to what extent they represent the continuing elaboration of a cultural imaginary of “old age” that he first deployed in his original trilogy, Molloy,Malone Dies, and The Unnameable, are difficult to ascertain. What is clear is that Beckett’s literary old age remained a symbolic imaginary, realized differ- ently than in his earlier work but scarcely more connected with his own later life.

Author Biography

Chris Gilleard, University College London

is a visiting research fellow in the Division of Psychiatry, Faculty of Brain Sciences at University College London. With his colleague Paul Higgs he has written extensively on the social economic and cultural recon- figurations of later life, including such books as Cultures of Ageing (2000); Ageing, Corporeality and Embodiment (2013); and Rethinking Old Age (2015). In addition, he maintains a longstanding interest in the history of aging and old age and in the work of Samuel Beckett. Readers may write to Chris Gilleard at CGilleard@aol.com.


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How to Cite

Gilleard, C. “Old Age and Samuel Beckett’s Late Works”. Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 3, Jan. 2018, pp. 33-56, doi:10.7146/ageculturehumanities.v3i.130154.