A major new collection of books, documents and artefacts given to the University of Reading will provide unique new insights on the relationship between Beckett and his fellow Dubliner James Joyce.
The gift of the Solange and Stephen James Joyce Collection was announced on 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. It was 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 (2 February 1931).
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, Co-Director of the 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, 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.
More information here