Le Carré gifts entire archive to Bodleian

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The Independent Culture

George Smiley, John le Carré's fictional Cold War spymaster, is returning to his spiritual home. The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library is to take charge of le Carré's vast literary archive, including early drafts of the Oxford-educated Smiley's famous rise through MI6.

More than 85 boxes of manuscripts – "the size of a Cornish barn" – according to the Bodleian, are to be held at the library, it was announced yesterday. Early drafts within Le Carré's work reveal 2001's The Constant Gardener to have the working title "The Mad Gardener" and 1974's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy, one of Smiley's most famous outings, to be provisionally titled "The Reluctant Autumn of George Smiley".

"I am delighted to be able to do this," said Le Carré, 79. "While I have the greatest respect for American universities, the Bodleian is where I shall most happily rest." In recent years there has been a trend towards literary archives heading abroad, particularly to the US. The University of Texas, for example, owns the archives of David Hare and Tom Stoppard.

Le Carré's papers are being taken to the Bodleian pending approval by the Government's Acceptance In Lieu scheme in which donors forgo potential partial future death duty in exchange for donations to the state.

The archives will give an unprecedented insight into the author's working methods. "He's writing at the moment and still using the same methods," said Le Carré's literary agent, Jonny Geller, managing director of the books division of Curtis Brown. "His drafts are quite beautiful objects, typed up and amended by him using a pair of scissors, pieces of paper and sticky tape. These days you would be emailed a draft in a Word file and there's no reason to keep it; these are beautifully rendered."

Le Carré is the nom de plume of David John Moore Cornwell, educated at Oxford's Lincoln College where he received a first in modern languages.

The writer worked in MI5 and MI6 before turning to full-time writing.

His literary career has spanned 50 years and 22 novels. His books have been translated into 36 languages. "He is becoming seriously studied at academic levels," said the Bodleian's associate director Richard Ovenden. "Literary scholars and cultural critics are tremendously interested in John Le Carré. Indeed, George Smiley has entered common parlance. You hear people describe other authors' work as 'Smiley-ish'; and his books have become adapted for radio and TV and continue to reach new audiences."

In 2008, the British Library purchased a portion of Ted Hughes's papers for £500,000. But le Carré said he made the gift out of affection to the institution, both his own, and Smiley's alma mater. The Bodleian's most recent other major recent gift was from Alan Bennett in 2008, who said he felt the university was "where I was educated and where I belong".

National treasures...

* In 2007, the British Library acquired Harold Pinter's personal archive for £1.1m, including more than 12,000 letters between the playwright and virtually all the leading theatrical figures of the past 50 years, including Samuel Beckett and Joseph Losey.

* In 2008, Alan Bennett donated his entire archive to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. The documents included 30 years of diaries, including several drafts of The Madness of George III, which became an Oscar-winning film, and the script of The History Boys.

* Last year, JG Ballard's archive was saved through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, in exchange for settling death duties, in this case £350,000 in tax. The archive included Ballard's school report as a 16-year-old in which he was reprimanded for his lack of concentration.