For all the broad hints from this Government about charitable giving, it is rare these days for a renowned cultural figure to donate his or her archive to a British institution rather than auctioning it to the highest bidder – usually American. But it now emerges that the master of the spy novel, John le Carré, has followed Alan Bennett – a writer of an equally English, but quite different stamp – in making over his archive to the nation. It will be kept by the Bodleian Library at Oxford University – described by le Carré, referring to his most famous creation, as "Smiley's spiritual home, as it is mine".
The Bodleian should treasure these papers, which will be a unique resource for the researchers of the future, charting as they do the minutiae of le Carré's writing and editing through more than 20 novels. But we can't help wondering how much of his method may remain opaque or tantalisingly deceptive even then. The wizard of ambivalence and ambiguity is still weaving and keeping his secrets. He not only lived through the Cold War, he felt it to its icy core, before moving on to the dilemmas of a relatively simpler, but no kinder, age.
We look forward to glimpsing an early manuscript, while fervently hoping that the mystery stays intact.
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