Louise Phillips lives in London. Her work has appeared in The Independent, Litro, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, 3AM Magazine, decomP magazinE and The Los Angeles Review.

Her blog is found at theintermediateperiod.


posted Dec 22, 2015

The solitary protagonist sets out on a journey:

Ussy-sur-Marne is a small French village on the Marne River. It has a church, a school, a hairdresser, a tabac, a war memorial, a boulangerie patisserie, and a bar where the townspeople meet to play cards. Ussy's inhabitants are known as Ussois. Between 1954 and 1962, the population dropped from 506 Ussois to 504.

A Bulgarian farm worker named Boris Roussimoff lived just north of Ussy in the hamlet of Molien. He had five children with his wife Marianne: Antoine, Hélène, Mauricette, Jacques, and André René, their middle child, who was ten in September of 1956.

Molien had no church, tabac, or school, so the Roussimoff children rode a bus to Ussy. They were a happy family. On Thursdays, the brothers cut wood to heat the house. At harvest time, they worked alongside their father in the fields. The crops were mostly cereal and forage, to feed the livestock at the local pork and cattle farms.

"Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there's a heap."

André had always been a tall boy. He weighed eleven pounds at birth. His family assumed it was inherited from his Roussimoff grandfather, who was over seven feet tall. André outgrew everything: his shoes, his clothing, the chairs at school.

His height was the result of undiagnosed acromegaly, which thickened his skin and enlarged his hands, feet, nose lips and ears. Amiable and soft-spoken, he never complained.

André had a nice laugh. It was a gentle giggle which slipped out, like he was surprised to be laughing. He loved playing football with his friends—he was always in goal.

Almost six feet tall, he could not longer cram himself into the seats of the school bus. The Roussimoff family did not own a car or a truck. So he walked.


All that fall:

The Irish author and playwright Samuel Beckett had a small house in the Marne Valley. A white, two-room cottage behind a concrete wall. He relished working on his grounds; mowing the lawn and raking leaves in the autumn. It was a short journey to Paris, convenient for day trips. A good train early in the morning and a late train back the same night.

Beckett was fifty years old in September of 1956. The present was perpetually in the state of being replaced. Waiting for Godot had premiered on Broadway in April. He was writing Endgame and a one-act radio play for the BBC called All That Fall.

"May I offer you a lift, Mrs Rooney? Are you going in my direction?"

"I am, Mr Slocum, we all are."

Beckett spent hours walking in the valleys surrounding Ussy and Molien. He rode his bicycle when he had to post an urgent letter, and drove his Citroën 2CV to pick up groceries in Ferté-sous-Jouarre. Thirty years hence, André Roussimoff will mention to his co-stars in The Princess Bride that Beckett occasionally gave him lifts to school.

The source of this anecdote was the Cary Elwes Video Diary on the 2001 MGM widescreen special addition re-release of The Princess Bride. It was not a first person testimony, and Roussimoff was not mentioned in The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 2, 1941-1956. The confusion was not Beckett's invention. The question of whether he actually drove Roussimoff to school remains unresolved.


WrestleMania III Press Conference, March 3, 1987:


"Mean" Gene Okerlund: I'll ask the questions, if you don't mind.

Bobby "the Brain" Heenan: And I'll be glad to give you the questions.

"Mean" Gene Okerlund: Alright now... I give up.

Bobby "The Brain" Heenan: Great. What would you like to talk about first Mr. Okerlund?


It would give me great pleasure:

In early September of 1956 the Letters placed Beckett in Ussy, when Michael Krugman's André the Giant: A Legendary Life had Roussimoff starting his final year of school.

A small round tower marked the entrance to Molien. It must have been dark when André left his hamlet in the mornings. He walked the 2.71 kilometres to Ussy, hitching a ride when he could.

"Plod on and never recede. Slowly with never a pause plod on and never recede."

It was quite a trek to make every day. Sometimes it was very cold, or very hot, and sometimes it rained so hard he stayed wet for hours. Still, there were things to enjoy: blue skies, the wind in his curly hair, birds chirping in the Bois de la Houssaye, a small woods he passed on his way to town.

On September 4 and 7, Beckett mailed letters to the painter Avigdor Arikha and Goddard Lieberson, who produced the original cast recording of Waiting for Godot. Beckett told Arikha he felt tired and wanted to remain in the country. Lieberson was trying to arrange a meeting between Beckett and the composer Igor Stravinsky, who would be in Paris in November.

Beckett might have spotted André from a distance, a few fields ahead. He was not quite six feet tall in 1956. None of the doctors in Ussy could explain why a ten year old boy was so big. Beckett might have pulled up just behind or ahead of André, then popped open the front passenger door to offer him a lift.

"Ça va me faire grand plaisir."

André's head would have grazed the roof of the car and his knees folded up into his chest. He already looked like an adult. His joints and muscles ached and his toes strained against the leather of his work boots.

"There's a new belt that's being made to fit a man. A giant of a man."

He would grow so large that he would one day travel the world as the professional wrestler André the Giant, seven feet four inches tall and undefeated for fifteen years against the cast of despairing characters in the World Wrestling Federation's theatre of the absurd.

Saplings had been planted along the D3. André had not known the countryside during the war. Beckett remembered the smoky rubble of France's towns and villages. He had spent three years hiding in the unoccupied zone with his companion Suzanne after the Gloria resistance network was betrayed.

Talk between Beckett and Roussimoff was most likely about sport. Beckett kept up with the scores. He'd lived in France for thirty years but still supported Ireland in the Five Nations. On the weekends he listened to the rugby commentary on the radio, and he read L'Équipe and the sports pages in the Manchester Guardian and The Times.

In the dim void bit by bit. The Citroën shot past tractors, farmhouses, orchards, wheat fields. The apple harvest was approaching. Just ahead, the spire of the Église Saint-Authaire rose over Ussy-sur-Marne, a small French village on the Marne River.



"Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day..." Endgame, Samuel Beckett, Grove Press, 1958.

"May I offer you a lift, Mrs Rooney? Are you going in my direction?" All That Fall: A Play for Radio, Samuel Beckett, Faber and Faber, 1957.

"The confusion is not my invention." Samuel Beckett, (paraphrased) "Beckett by the Medeleine,´ Tom F. Driver, interview, Columbia University Forum IV, Summer, 1961.

"Plod on and never recede. Slowly with never a pause plod on and never recede." Samuel Beckett, "Worstward Ho," Nohow On, Grove Press, 1989.

"Ça va me faire grand plaisir de vous faire mal." ("It will give me great pleasure to hurt you,") André "The Giant" Roussimoff, WrestleMania III Contract Signing, March 3, 1987.

"There's a new belt that's being made to fit a man..." Bobby "The Brain" Heenan WrestleMania III Press Conference, March 3, 1987.

"In the dim void bit by bit an old man and child," Samuel Beckett, "Worstward Ho" Nohow On, Grove Press, 1989.