Collections and archives

The Beckett CollectionBeckett manuscript

The University of Reading holds the Samuel Beckett Collection, which is the world's largest collection of resources relating to the Nobel Prize winning author, Samuel Beckett.

The collection originated in an exhibition organised by James Knowlson in 1971. Beckett and his friends donated material for the exhibition, which formed the nucleus of the archive that is now housed in the same building as the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) behind the London Road campus. Beckett continued to support the collection with great generosity until his death in 1989, donating manuscripts and other items including livres d'artiste and paintings by his friends Gerr van Velde, Henri Hayden and Avigdor Arikha.

One of the collection's latest acquisitions is the original Murphy manuscript, which comprises 6 notebooks of material relating to Beckett's first published novel.

The late Anthony Minghella, a patron of the Foundation, named Reading's Beckett Archive as one of the 'best-kept arts secrets in Britain' (The Observer, 17 September 2006). 

The Knowlson Collection

In the summer of 2008, the University significantly increased its Beckett holdings with the acquisition of the James and Elizabeth Knowlson Collection. This includes original manuscripts, interviews with friends and colleagues of Beckett's, over 6500 letters to more than 160 recipients, including nearly 200 to James Knowlson himself, Knowlson's research files and an extensive library.

A fuller description of its holdings can be found here: Research Review, Summer 2009 (PDF - 711KB).

To view the James and Elizabeth Knowlson Collection, search the online catalogue with the reference code 'JEK'. 

Billie Whitelaw Collection

The theatrical papers of Samuel Beckett's favourite actress were acquired by the University at auction in December 2014, with the generous support of the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.

The collections contain scripts annotated by Billie Whitelaw, notebooks and correspondence relating to her theatrical work with Samuel Beckett. Includes a telephone recording of Samuel Beckett reading from and discussing his play Rockaby with Billie Whitelaw and 2 dresses worn by Billie Whitelaw during performances of Beckett plays.

Billie Whitelaw was born in 1932 in Coventry. She trained at RADA, and appeared in many films and on television. She worked extensively with Samuel Beckett. She died on 21 December 2014.

For more information, see the catalogue or search the online database with reference code 'BW'.

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