Samuel Beckett’s first novel and “literary landmark” (St. Petersburg Times), Dream of Fair to Middling Women is a wonderfully savory introduction to the Nobel Prize–winning author. Written in the summer of 1932, when the twenty-six-year-old Beckett was poor and struggling to make ends meet, the novel offers a rare and revealing portrait of the artist as a young man. Later on, Beckett would call the novel “the chest into which I threw all my wild thoughts.” When he submitted it to several publishers, all of them found it too literary, too scandalous, or too risky; it was never published during his lifetime.
As the story begins, Belacqua—a young version of Molloy, whose love is divided between two women, Smeraldina-Rima and the little Alba—“wrestles with his lusts and learning across vocabularies and continents, before a final ‘relapse into Dublin’” (The New Yorker). Youthfully exuberant and visibly influenced by Joyce, Dream of Fair to Middling Women is a work of extraordinary virtuosity. Beckett delights in the wordplay and sheer joy of language that mark his later work. Above all, the story brims with the black humor that, like brief stabs of sunlight, pierces the darkness of his vision.