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Joyce and Beckett Reunited As University of Reading Acquires Major Collection

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A major new collection of books, documents and artefacts given to the University of Reading will provide unique new insights on the relationship between two giants of twentieth century literature: James Joyce and Samuel Beckett.

Joyce and Beckett
A selection of the letters in the collection (letter by James Joyce reproduced by kind permission of the James Joyce Estate)

The generous gift of the Solange and Stephen James Joyce Collection to the University of Reading will further illuminate the relationship between Joyce and Beckett. Reading’s existing Samuel Beckett Collection is already among the largest Beckett archives in the world.

The new collection is being announced today (Wednesday 2 February), the centenary of the publication in Paris of Joyce’s novel Ulysses, considered by many as one of the greatest and most influential novels ever written in English. Today is also the 140th anniversary of Joyce’s birth.

Among the unique assortment of Joyce’s personal items donated by his grandson, Stephen James Joyce, and his wife, Solange, are letters and telegrams providing new insight into the relationship between the two writers. These include a telegram sent by Beckett to Joyce on his 49th birthday exactly 91 years ago today (2 February 1931).

The gift will make the rich archive publicly available to scholars, writers and artists for the first time through the University of Reading’s Museums and Archives Service. The University now aims to enhance the study of these great Irish writers and friends, a vision that was shared by the donors who described their connection as ‘strong and important’.

Beckett connection

The birthday telegram, sent by Beckett in Dublin to Joyce in Paris, reads: ‘Teems of times and happy returns. Beckett’, and suggests a close and friendly relationship between Beckett and his mentor.

Joyce was known to be, in the words of Beckett, ‘a great man for anniversaries’. It is therefore appropriate that the new collection is being announced not only in time for the centenary of the publication of Ulysses and on what would have been Joyce’s birthday, but also close to the second anniversary of Stephen James Joyce’s death.

Dr Mark Nixon, an English Literature researcher at the University of Reading and Co-Director of its Beckett International Foundation, said: “The unusual birthday telegram from Beckett to Joyce says much about them as friends. Short and sweet, the playful language hints at a shared sense of humour and shows the respect Beckett had for the writer who greatly influenced his own writing style.

“The new collection silverplates the relationship we knew existed between Beckett and Joyce, with their personal correspondence shedding fresh light on the closeness between the two. Such gems among the collection will prove invaluable to those studying these two historic writers.”

Edward Beckett, the nephew of Samuel Beckett, added: “It is wonderful to have the Beckett and Joyce archives together under the same roof. The two writers were close friends and their Estates and families had also stayed close. That it was possible to unite their literary archives is an achievement to applaud.”

Among the highlights of the new collection are a large number of letters to Joyce, including from Beckett and other writers, including H.G. Wells. There are also around a hundred letters from Joyce’s great supporter Harriet Shaw Weaver, plus correspondence from his friend, Paul Leon.

Personal items include his pens, rings, his wife Nora’s necklace, a manuscript of his poetry collection ‘Chamber Music’, a copy of the poem Ecce Puer handwritten by Joyce to mark the birth of Stephen Joyce, and an undated letter from Joyce expressing his love for Nora, saying how much he misses her.

Alongside these are a great number of published editions of works by and about Joyce from across the world and in many languages. Many of these will be available to browse in the University’s Special Collections Service – fittingly in a room alongside the equivalent collection of books by and about Beckett.

The University of Reading is also home to the Samuel Beckett Research Centre, which aims to promote Beckett’s legacy through creative engagement and original new work. The items in the University’s new Joyce collection will add to the depth of materials available to the researchers and creative fellows working with the Centre.

‘Extraordinary material’

Professor Robert Van de Noort, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Reading, said: “James Joyce was a writer who transformed our ideas about the world, about creativity and about humanity. His letters, manuscripts and artefacts are rightly treasured but we are taking this collection not just to protect it but to share it.

“Due to the extraordinary scale and breadth of the published material, I know that the collection will be heavily used by researchers, scholars and the public at all levels of study and from around the world. It will of course enhance teaching, learning and research within our own University community and will inspire even more innovation and creativity in how collections are accessed, used and understood in an increasingly digital world.”

Guy Baxter, Head of Archive Services at the University of Reading, said: “As well as representing a remarkable new resource for learning and research across the University, we hope that this collection will provide inspiration to visitors and online audiences across the world.

“Our priority in the coming months is to make final arrangements to bring all parts of the collection together in its new home and to begin the task of cataloguing, so that this unique resource can be made accessible. Our team of experienced professional librarians, archivists, curators and conservators – working closely with relevant scholars – are excited at the prospect of giving this valuable collection a new home and making it available.”

The University acknowledges with thanks the bequest to it by Mr and Mrs Joyce of the valuable collections of books, documents and artefacts comprising the Solange and Stephen James Joyce Collection.