New James Joyce artifacts and personal letters donated to university


A new collection of books, documents and artifacts belonging to pioneering 20th-century writer James Joyce will shed light on his close relationship with his protege Samuel Beckett, experts have said.

Joyce’s grandson Stephen James Joyce and his wife Solange donated letters and telegrams between the two influential Irish writers, as well as personal items including pens, rings and a manuscript from his collection poetry at the University of Reading.

Donations will be available to anyone by appointment with the university’s collections department, alongside its existing Samuel Beckett collection.

Among the items in the collection is a telegram sent by Beckett to the author of Ulysses in Paris on the occasion of his 49th birthday, which reads: “Always of time and happy returns. Beckett”.

Dr Mark Nixon, a scholar of English literature at the University of Reading and co-director of its International Beckett Foundation, describes the document as a historical “gem”.

Solange and Stephen James Joyce at their wedding, with Samuel Beckett (who was the witness) in the foreground (Sean Sweeney/University of Reading/PA)

“Beckett’s unusual birthday telegram to Joyce says a lot about them as friends,” he said.

“Short and sweet, the playful language alludes to a shared sense of humor and shows the respect Beckett had for the writer who greatly influenced his own writing style.

“The new collection highlights the relationship we knew between Beckett and Joyce, with their personal correspondence shedding new light on the closeness between the two.

“Such gems among the collection will prove invaluable to those who study these two historical writers.”

Other material in the collection includes several letters to Joyce from Beckett and other writers, including Brave New World author HG Wells, and her friends Harriet Shaw Weaver and Paul Leon.

Visitors will also be able to examine a necklace belonging to Joyce’s wife, Nora, a handwritten poem expressing his love for her, called Ecce Puer, and a manuscript of his poetry book, Chamber Music.

Edward Beckett, the nephew of the author Waiting for Godot, welcomed the reunion of the collections of the two writers.

“It’s wonderful to have the Beckett and Joyce archives under one roof,” he said.

“The two writers were close friends and their estates and families had also remained close.

“That it was possible to unite their literary archives is a feat to be applauded.”

Telegram of birthday wishes from Samuel Beckett to James Joyce, February 2, 1931 (The Beckett Estate/ University of Reading)
Telegram of birthday wishes from Samuel Beckett to James Joyce, February 2, 1931 (The Beckett Estate/University of Reading/PA)

Professor Robert Van de Noort, vice-chancellor of the University of Reading, said the “valuable” artefacts will be much used by researchers and the public.

“James Joyce was a writer who transformed our ideas about the world, about creativity and about humanity,” he said.

“His letters, manuscripts and artifacts are rightly valuable, but we take this collection not only to protect it but to share it.

“Because of the extraordinary breadth and breadth of the material published, I know the collection will be widely used by researchers, scholars and the public at all levels of study and around the world.

“This will of course enhance teaching, learning and research within our own academic community and inspire even more innovation and creativity in the way collections are accessed, used and understood in an increasingly more digital.”

Guy Baxter, head of the university’s archives, said staff were working hard to catalog the collection to make it easily accessible.

The introduction of The Solange And Stephen James Joyce Collection was announced on the 140th anniversary of the writer’s birth and the centenary of the publication of his seminal novel, Ulysses.


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