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John le Carré archives to rest at Bodleian Library

Oxford to protect manuscripts, diaries from moles

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John le Carré has donated his literary archive to Oxford's Bodleian Library, delivering a crushing blow to archive-hungry American universities and a well-known East Anglian breeding ground for moles alike.

Le Carré, or David Cornwell to use his real name, studied modern languages at Oxford before becoming a civil servant cum intelligence officer. In 1995, he confirmed his Lincoln College tutor the Rev Vivian Green was the inspiration for his most famous creation, George Smiely.

According to the Bodleian, the archive "fills a space the size of a Cornish barn" and "comprises multiple versions of his works, showing the evolution of his thought, his handling of plot and development of character, and his intensive editorial approach".

The Bodleian received 85 boxes last year, and more is still to come. An exhibition of some of the material will kick off on world Book Day next week, and in time, much of the archive will find its way online.

"John le Carré’s writing is not just a key to understanding the history of the Cold War; it is itself a vital and influential part of that history. To have this archive in the Bodleian is a major enrichment of Oxford’s unique collection of primary sources for the study of contemporary history," said Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies, University of Oxford.

Le Carré said, "I am delighted to be able to do this. Oxford was Smiley’s spiritual home, as it is mine. And while I have the greatest respect for American universities, the Bodleian is where I shall most happily rest."

A number of British literary archives have ended up in the hands of cash rich American universities in recent years. The innermost thoughts of both David Hare and Tom Stoppard will spend eternity at the University of Texas.

As a sometime servant of HRH it would presumably have been unthinkable for Le Carré to have sent his archive to the US. Almost as unthinkable as for it to end up at Cambridge, the recruiting ground for the real life moles that George Smiley spent so many books rooting out. ®

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