‘Temporarily sane’: Beckett, Modernism, and the Ethics of Suicide

  • Ulrika Maude
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Modern European Literature book series (PMEL)


Literature is the space in which the inadmissible—including the otherwise largely unacceptable or unspeakable question of suicide—can be addressed. Focusing on the prominence of representations of suicide in modernist literature, I suggest that while Virginia Woolf and James Joyce represent the act with considerable sympathy and understanding, Woolf’s writing gives suicide the privileged status of an event, while in Joyce’s work it is often laden with a heightened pathos. In Samuel Beckett’s major works, by contrast, suicide appears prominently but in the margins, while the works that thematize suicide are relatively minor in the Beckett canon. By distancing the act from an affective intensity with which it is usually associated, Beckett’s work produces a radical normalization of the act that presents it as both unexceptional and lacking in pathos. In Beckett, suicide is (in Henry Maudsley’s phrase) ‘just a necessary incident from time to time’ in the course of the subject’s evolutions.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ulrika Maude
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BristolBristolUK

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