Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press


by Samuel Beckett Translated from French by Patrick Bowles

‘samuel Beckett is one of the great playwrights of our age. . . . As a novelist he is just as important. His novels, like all important works of art, have the stamp of the inevitable on them: they had to be written and, though we suffer reading them, we are glad that they have been written.” –Anthony Burgess

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 256
  • Publication Date January 01, 1978
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5136-0
  • Dimensions 5.38" x 8"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

Molloy, the first of the three masterpieces which constitute Samuel Beckett’s famous trilogy, appeared in French in 1951, followed seven months later by Malone Dies (Malone meurt) and two years later by The Unnamable (L”Innommable). Few works of contemporary literature have been so universally acclaimed as central to their time and to our understanding of the human experience.

Tags Literary


“In the trilogy, Beckett is creating his own death in prose, quarrying right down to that subterranean country of his heart . . . a landscape so sterile and impotent that nothing moves except the writer’s hand across the page as he takes down dictation from his unstoppable voices. The trilogy is, quite literally, a m’moire d”outre tombe for our time. . . . What remains is a terminal vision, a terminal style and, from the point of view of possible development, a work at least as aesthetically terminal as Finnegans Wake.” –A. Alvarez

‘samuel Beckett is one of the great playwrights of our age. . . . As a novelist he is just as important. His novels, like all important works of art, have the stamp of the inevitable on them: they had to be written and, though we suffer reading them, we are glad that they have been written.” –Anthony Burgess

“If there is such a thing as the shock of discovery, I experienced it that day [on reading Molloy]. The simplicity, the beauty, yes, and the terror of the words shook me as little had before or has since.

And the man’s vision of the world, his painfully honest portrayal thereof, his anti-illusionist stance. And the humor; God, the humor. I waited a day or two, then reread Molloy. The second reading was more exciting than the first. Two stunning works. Miracles.” –Richard W. Seaver


Selected as one of Time Out‘s 1,000 Books to Change Your Life


From Molloy

I called her Mag, when I had to call her something. And I
called her Mag because for me, without my knowing why, the letter g
abolished the syllable Ma, and as it were spat on it, better than any other
letter would have done. And at the same time I satisfied a deep and doubtless
unacknowledged need, the need to have a Ma, that is a mother, and
to proclaim it, audibly. For before you say mag you say ma, inevitably. And
da, in my part of the world, means father. Besides for me the question
did not arise, at the period I’m worming into now, I mean the question of
whether to call her Ma, Mag or the Countess Caca, she having for countless
years been as deaf as a post. I think she was quite incontinent, both
of faeces and water, but a kind of prudishness made us avoid the subject
when we met, and I could never be certain of it.

In any case it can’t have
amounted to much, a few niggardly wetted goat-droppings every two or
three days. The room smelt of ammonia, oh not merely of ammonia, but
of ammonia, ammonia. She knew it was me, by my smell. Her shrunken
hairy old face lit up, she was happy to smell me. She jabbered away with a
rattle of dentures and most of the time didn’t realize what she was saying.
Anyone but myself would have been lost in this clattering gabble, which
can only have stopped during her brief instants of unconsciousness. In
any case I didn’t come to listen to her. I got into communication with
her by knocking on her skull. One knock meant yes, two no, three I don’t
know, four money, five goodbye. I was hard put to ram this code into her
ruined and frantic understanding, but I did it, in the end. That she should
confuse yes, no, I don’t know and goodbye, was all the same to me, I confused
them myself. But that she should associate the four knocks with
anything but money was something to be avoided at all costs. During the
period of training therefore, at the same time as I administered the four
knocks on her skull, I stuck a bank-note under her nose or in her mouth.
In the innocence of my heart! For she seemed to have lost, if not absolutely
all notion of mensuration, at least the faculty of counting beyond
two. It was too far for her, yes, the distance was too great, from one to four.
By the time she came to the fourth knock she imagined she was only at
the second, the first two having been erased from her memory as completely
as if they had never been felt, though I don’t quite see how something
never felt can be erased from the memory, and yet it is a common
occurrence. She must have thought I was saying no to her all the time,
whereas nothing was further from my purpose. Enlightened by these
considerations I looked for and finally found a more effective means of
putting the idea of money into her head. This consisted in replacing the
four knocks of my index-knuckle by one or more (according to my needs)
thumps of the fist, on her skull. That she understood.

* * *

From Molloy

For I have always said, First learn to walk, then
you can take swimming lessons. But don’t imagine my region ended at
the coast, that would be a grave mistake. For it was this sea too, its reefs
and distant islands, and its hidden depths. And I too once went forth on
it, in a sort of oarless skiff, but I paddled with an old bit of driftwood. And
I sometimes wonder if I ever came back, from that voyage. For if I see
myself putting to sea, and the long hours without landfall, I do not see
the return, the tossing on the breakers, and I do not hear the frail keel
grating on the shore. I took advantage of being at the seaside to lay in a
store of sucking-stones. They were pebbles but I call them stones. Yes, on
this occasion I laid in a considerable store. I distributed them equally
among my four pockets, and sucked them turn and turn about. This
raised a problem which I first solved in the following way. I had say sixteen
stones, four in each of my four pockets these being the two pockets
of my trousers and the two pockets of my greatcoat. Taking a stone from
the right pocket of my greatcoat, and putting it in my mouth, I replaced
it in the right pocket of my greatcoat by a stone from the right pocket of
my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my trousers,
which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my greatcoat,
which I replaced by the stone which was in my mouth, as soon as I had
finished sucking it. Thus there were still four stones in each of my four
pockets, but not quite the same stones. And when the desire to suck took
hold of me again, I drew again on the right pocket of my greatcoat, certain
of not taking the same stone as the last time. And while I sucked it I
rearranged the other stones in the way I have just described. And so on.
But this solution did not satisfy me fully. For it did not escape me that,
by an extraordinary hazard, the four stones circulating thus might always
be the same four. In which case, far from sucking the sixteen stones turn
and turn about, I was really only sucking four, always the same, turn and
turn about. But I shuffled them well in my pockets, before I began to suck,
and again, while I sucked, before transferring them, in the hope of obtaining
a more general circulation of the stones from pocket to pocket. But
this was only a makeshift that could not long content a man like me. So
I began to look for something else. And the first thing I hit upon was that
I might do better to transfer the stones four by four, instead of one by one,
that is to say, during the sucking, to take the three stones remaining in
the right pocket of my greatcoat and replace them by the four in the right
pocket of my trousers, and these by the four in the left pocket of my trousers,
and these by the four in the left pocket of my greatcoat, and finally
these by the three from the right pocket of my greatcoat, plus the one, as
soon as I had finished sucking it, which was in my mouth. Yes, it seemed
to me at first that by so doing I would arrive at a better result. But on further
reflection I had to change my mind and confess that the circulation
of the stones four by four came to exactly the same thing as their circulation
one by one. For if I was certain of finding each time, in the right
pocket of my greatcoat, four stones totally different from their immediate
predecessors, the possibility nevertheless remained of my always chancing
on the same stone, within each group of four, and consequently of my
sucking, not the sixteen turn and turn about as I wished, but in fact four
only, always the same, turn and turn about. So I had to seek elsewhere
than in the mode of circulation. For no matter how I caused the stones
to circulate, I always ran the same risk. It was obvious that by increasing
the number of my pockets I was bound to increase my chances of enjoying
my stones in the way I planned, that is to say one after the other until
their number was exhausted. Had I had eight pockets, for example, instead
of the four I did have, then even the most diabolical hazard could not have
prevented me from sucking at least eight of my sixteen stones, turn and
turn about. The truth is I should have needed sixteen pockets in order to
be quite easy in my mind. And for a long time I could see no other conclusion
than this, that short of having sixteen pockets, each with its
stone, I could never reach the goal I had set myself, short of an extraordinary
hazard. And if at a pitch I could double the number of my pockets,
were it only by dividing each pocket in two, with the help of a few
safety-pins let us say, to quadruple them seemed to be more than I could
manage. And I did not feel inclined to take all that trouble for a halfmeasure.
For I was beginning to lose all sense of measure, after all this
wrestling and wrangling, and to say, All or nothing. And if I was tempted
for an instant to establish a more equitable proportion between my
stones and my pockets, by reducing the former to the number of the latter,
it was only for an instant. For it would have been an admission of defeat.
And sitting on the shore, before the sea, the sixteen stones spread out
before my eyes, I gazed at them in anger and perplexity. For just as I had
difficulty in sitting on a chair, or in an armchair, because of my stiff leg
you understand, so I had none in sitting on the ground, because of my
stiff leg and my stiffening leg, for it was about this time that my good leg,
good in the sense that it was not stiff, began to stiffen. I needed a prop
under the ham you understand, and even under the whole length of the

leg, the prop of the earth. And while I gazed thus at my stones, revolving

interminable martingales all equally defective, and crushing handfuls

of sand, so that the sand ran through my fingers and fell back on the

strand, yes, while thus I lulled my mind and part of my body, one day

suddenly it dawned on the former, dimly, that I might perhaps achieve

my purpose without increasing the number of my pockets, or reducing

the number of my stones, but simply by sacrificing the principle of trim.

The meaning of this illumination, which suddenly began to sing within

me, like a verse of Isaiah, or of Jeremiah, I did not penetrate at once, and

notably the word trim, which I had never met with, in this sense, long

remained obscure. Finally I seemed to grasp that this word trim could

not here mean anything else, anything better, than the distribution of the

sixteen stones in four groups of four, one group in each pocket, and that

it was my refusal to consider any distribution other than this that had

vitiated my calculations until then and rendered the problem literally

insoluble. And it was on the basis of this interpretation, whether right or

wrong, that I finally reached a solution, inelegant assuredly, but sound,

sound. Now I am willing to believe, indeed I firmly believe, that other

solutions to this problem might have been found, and indeed may still be

found, no less sound, but much more elegant, than the one I shall now

describe, if I can. And I believe too that had I been a little more insistent,

a little more resistant, I could have found them myself. But I was tired,

but I was tired, and I contented myself ingloriously with the first solution

that was a solution, to this problem. But not to go over the heartbreaking

stages through which I passed before I came to it, here it is, in

all its hideousness. All (all!) that was necessary was to put for example,

to begin with, six stones in the right pocket of my greatcoat, or supplypocket,

five in the right pocket of my trousers, and five in the left pocket

of my trousers, that makes the lot, twice five ten plus six sixteen, and

none, for none remained, in the left pocket of my greatcoat, which for

the time being remained empty, empty of stones that is, for its usual contents

remained, as well as occasional objects. For where do you think I

hid my vegetable knife, my silver, my horn and the other things that I

have not yet named, perhaps shall never name. Good. Now I can begin to

suck. Watch me closely. I take a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat,

suck it, stop sucking it, put it in the left pocket of my greatcoat, the

one empty (of stones). I take a second stone from the right pocket of my

greatcoat, suck it, put it in the left pocket of my greatcoat. And so on until

the right pocket of my greatcoat is empty (apart from its usual and casual

contents) and the six stones I have just sucked, one after the other, are all

in the left pocket of my greatcoat. Pausing then, and concentrating, so as

not to make a balls of it, I transfer to the right pocket of my greatcoat, in

which there are no stones left, the five stones in the right pocket of my

trousers, which I replace by the five stones in the left pocket of my trousers,

which I replace by the six stones in the left pocket of my greatcoat.

At this stage then the left pocket of my greatcoat is again empty of stones,

while the right pocket of my greatcoat is again supplied, and in the right

way, that is to say with other stones than those I have just sucked. These

other stones I then begin to suck, one after the other, and to transfer as I

go along to the left pocket of my greatcoat, being absolutely certain, as far

as one can be in an affair of this kind, that I am not sucking the same

stones as a moment before, but others. And when the right pocket of my

greatcoat is again empty (of stones), and the five I have just sucked are all

without exception in the left pocket of my greatcoat, then I proceed to

the same redistribution as a moment before, or a similar redistribution,

that is to say I transfer to the right pocket of my greatcoat, now again

available, the five stones in the right pocket of my trousers, which I

replace by the six stones in the left pocket of my trousers, which I replace

by the five stones in the left pocket of my greatcoat. And there I am ready

to begin again. Do I have to go on? No, for it is clear that after the next

series, of sucks and transfers, I shall be back where I started, that is to say

with the first six stones back in the supply-pocket, the next five in the

right pocket of my stinking old trousers and finally the last five in left

pocket of same, and my sixteen stones will have been sucked once at least

in impeccable succession, not one sucked twice, not one left unsucked. It

is true that the next time I could scarcely hope to suck my stones in the

same order as the first time and that the first, seventh and twelfth for

example of the first cycle might very well be the sixth, eleventh and sixteenth

respectively of the second, if the worst came to the worst. But that

was a drawback I could not avoid. And if in the cycles taken together utter

confusion was bound to reign, at least within each cycle taken separately

I could be easy in my mind, at least as easy as one can be, in a proceeding

of this kind. For in order for each cycle to be identical, as to the succession

of stones in my mouth, and God knows I had set my heart on it, the

only means were numbered stones or sixteen pockets. And rather than

make twelve more pockets or number my stones, I preferred to make the

best of the comparative peace of mind I enjoyed within each cycle taken

separately. For it was not enough to number the stones, but I would have

had to remember, every time I put a stone in my mouth, the number I

needed and look for it in my pocket. Which would have put me off stone

for ever, in a very short time. For I would never have been sure of not

making a mistake, unless of course I had kept a kind of register, in which

to tick off the stones one by one, as I sucked them. And of this I believed

myself incapable. No, the only perfect solution would have been the sixteen

pockets, symmetrically disposed, each one with its stone. Then I

would have needed neither to number nor to think, but merely, as I

sucked a given stone, to move on the fifteen others, each to the next

pocket, a delicate business admittedly, but within my power, and to call

always on the same pocket when I felt like a suck. This would have freed

me from all anxiety, not only within each cycle taken separately, but also

for the sum of all cycles, though they went on forever. But however imperfect

my own solution was, I was pleased at having found it all alone, yes,

quite pleased. And if it was perhaps less sound than I had thought in the

first flush of discovery, its inelegance never diminished. And it was above

all inelegant in this, to my mind, that the uneven distribution was painful

to me, bodily. It is true that a kind of equilibrium was reached, at a

given moment, in the early stages of each cycle, namely after the third

suck and before the fourth, but it did not last long, and the rest of the

time I felt the weight of the stones dragging me now to one side, now to

the other. So it was something more than a principle I abandoned, when

I abandoned the equal distribution, it was a bodily need. But to suck the

stones in the way I have described, not haphazard, but with method, was

also I think a bodily need. Here then were two incompatible bodily needs,

at loggerheads. Such things happen. But deep down I didn’t give a tinker’s

curse about being off my balance, dragged to the right hand and the

left, backwards and forwards. And deep down it was all the same to me

whether I sucked a different stone each time or always the same stone,

until the end of time. For they all tasted exactly the same. And if I had

collected sixteen, it was not in order to ballast myself in such and such a

way, or to suck them turn about, but simply to have a little store, so as

never to be without. But deep down I didn’t give a fiddler’s curse about

being without, when they were all gone they would be all gone, I wouldn’t

be any the worse off, or hardly any. And the solution to which I rallied in

the end was to throw away all the stones but one, which I kept now in one

pocket, now in another, and which of course I soon lost, or threw away, or

gave away, or swallowed.