Samuel Beckett Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This is now the world's largest collection of Beckett resources. It contains over 600 manuscript, typescript and photocopied typescript items of original Beckett material, including manuscript drafts, annotated copies and corrected copies. There are also manuscript notebooks containing a wide variety of material, chiefly dating from the 1930s. Correspondence includes around 70 letters written by Beckett to his lover Pamela Mitchell in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and around 170 items from the correspondence between Beckett and the scholar Ruby Cohn, starting in the 1950s and continuing until the end of Beckett's life. There are 'stage files' relating to over 680 productions of Beckett plays, each containing material such as programmes, publicity material, reviews etc. Printed material includes over 1000 books, including both critical works and editions of Beckett's work in more than 20 languages. There are also over 500 offprints and photocopied articles on Beckett, around 170 periodical titles and over 40 dissertations. The collection contains artwork, including framed works by Avigdor Arikha, Geer van Velde and Henri Hayden, presented to the collection by Beckett himself; designs for Beckett productions; and artists' illustrated books by Avigdor Arikha, H.M. Erhardt, Max Ernst, Sorel Etrog, Jasper Johns and William Hayter. Other material includes over 2500 news cuttings relating to Beckett, around 50 posters from Beckett productions, over 500 photographs, a number of audiovisual recordings, and a remarkable variety of Beckett ephemera.

Administrative / Biographical History

Samuel Beckett was born in Foxrock, County Dublin on Good Friday, 13 April 1906. Although throughout his life he had the reputation of being sombre, mysterious and reclusive, this popular myth hid a very private, yet immensely generous, gracious and caring person.

On entering Trinity College, Dublin, Beckett developed his interest in art, music and literature. He was a gifted linguist who also enjoyed vaudeville theatre and the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. An academic career seemed to be the obvious option on graduating but, after spells teaching in Paris and Dublin, Beckett realised he was more suited to the artistic lifestyle he had encountered in Paris in the company of James Joyce. Having witnessed the intolerance of the Nazi regime towards writers and artists in Germany in 1936, Beckett famously decided that he preferred France at war to Ireland in peace, opting to live in France for the rest of his life. However, this bold decision was more than a mere gesture. Beckett was forced to spend much of the war on the run from the Nazis in the South of France working with the French Resistance, for which he was later awarded the Croix de Guerre.

The end of the war marked a burst of literary activity for Beckett, who began writing, in French, a dense prose trilogy comprising Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. As a relaxation from this project, between October 1948 and January 1949, Beckett worked on a play entitled En attendant Godot - the work which brought him international fame and recognition and which redefined modern theatre. Further literary success ensued, culminating in him being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

As the years progressed, Beckett's prose and drama decreased in length, as he found increasingly successful ways to express the inexpressible. Yet throughout his career, he remained a bilingual author, creating French and English versions of almost all his work. During the 1970s Beckett directed his major stage plays in Berlin in German, exhibiting another side of his character. His success in this field led him to direct his own plays created specifically for television - a medium which seemed perfect for the stark, imposing images of these later, minimalist pieces.

Samuel Beckett died on 22 December 1989 and was buried in a private ceremony in the Cimetire de Montparnasse in Paris.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Check www.reading.ac.uk/special-collections/using/sc-using.asp for contact details and opening hours.

Acquisition Information

The collection originated in the Samuel Beckett Exhibition held in the University Library in 1971 which contained material donated by Beckett himself and by many friends and admirers from the worlds of literature and theatre. Beckett continued to donate material to the collection up until his death. Subsequent additions have been both donations, from the Beckett Estate and other sources, and purchases.

Note

Description prepared by Bridget Andrews. Collection details and Beckett biography provided by Dr Julian Garforth

Other Finding Aids

The manuscript and typescript items are described in Beckett at Reading: catalogue of the Beckett manuscript collection at the University of Reading, compiled by Mary Bryden, Julian Garforth, Peter Mills (Whiteknights Press and the Beckett International Foundation, 1998). Supplemental catalogues of additions to the collection are available in the reading room. Books, offprints, periodicals, dissertations and 'stage files' of material from Beckett productions are recorded in the Library's online catalogue, Unicorn.

Accruals

Material is constantly being added, both by donation and by purchase.

Bibliography

For a list of the publications based on the collection, see the Beckett International Foundation web page at www.beckettfoundation.org.uk.