Author le Carré bequeaths archive to Bodleian

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Oxford-educated author John le Carré has donated his entire literary archive, stretching back over 50 years, to the University library.

The archives contain manuscripts, redrafts and edited versions of several of his 22 novels. Currently, 85 boxes – which, according to the Bodleian, “cover the size of a Cornish barn” – are in the library’s possession. The manuscripts reveal the intricate working methods of one of Britain’s best-known writers. According to Richard Ovenden, keeper of special collections at the Bodleian, they are completely hand-written, annotated, and edited, meaning “you can see the whole process of the creation of the novel.”

Le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell, said he was “delighted” to make the donation, adding: “The Bodleian is where I shall most happily rest.”
The donation to a British institution is particularly welcome, since in recent years many writers have bequeathed archives to larger and better-endowed institutions in the United States.

Ovenden called the gift a “terrific act of generosity”, especially in times of austerity, because “the ability of British institutions to compete with American archives is diminishing.”

Alan Bennett, another Oxford alumnus, donated his archive to the Bodleian in 2008, but those of other writers, such as Tom Stoppard, Salman Rushdie and David Hare, now reside in the United States.

Ovenden said that the Bodleian had “already begun discussions with academics here about its use in undergraduate teaching and, for example, in graduate student masterclasses”.

He added that their presence in Oxford will be “an important research resource for researchers working in a number of disciplines, but primarily English, History and Politics”.

The library is planning to celebrate the acquisition on 3rd March, World Book Day, by displaying a small part of the archive to the public. Drafts from The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener will be exhibited.

Ovenden continued: “We expect to be exhibiting them frequently, and to be organising lectures and other events which will be accessible both to members of the University and to the general public.”

Further additions of manuscripts, as well as large amounts of correspondence and photographs, will be made over the coming years.

The writer, who graduated with a first in Modern Languages from Lincoln College, and is now an Honorary Fellow there, called the city his “spiritual home”.

The city’s influence is also evident in his work. In 1995, he revealed that one of his most famous characters was based upon the then-Chaplain of Lincoln College, Vivian Green, who later became Rector in the 1980s.

Oxford also appears in novels such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and the protagonist of his most recent novel, Our Kind of Traitor, is a young Oxford academic.

Green’s successor as Rector of Lincoln College, Professor Paul Langford, said: “Lincoln College is greatly honoured to have such an exceptional modern author as an alumnus.  We are delighted by the completion of the arrangements for the Bodleian.”

Meanwhile, a rather different bequest was this week bestowed upon Oxford. Ten boxes of CDs, books and papers from the late L Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, were left to the Oxford Union in March 2009 and have only now appeared at Frewin Court.

James Langman, President of the Union, told the Telegraph: “it will be a matter for the library and the University authorities what is to be done with them, but, I have to say, I haven’t actually got around to opening any of them yet.”

The value of such a donation is unlikely to match that of Le Carré, however. One student claimed its only significance was that “at least John Travolta will now be deprived of information for Battlefield Earth II, referring to the actor’s Scientology-based 2000 film, a critical and commercial failure that has featured on lists of the worst films ever made.

Matt Stokes