One of the world's most celebrated authors, John le Carre, passes

15 December 2020

John le Carré, one of the world's most celebrated authors, has died aged 89 after a short illness. The Bodleian Libraries offers its sincerest condolences to his family.

Black and white image of author John le CarreBorn in Poole in 1931, David Cornwell, whose nom de plume was John le Carré, was educated at Sherborne School and studied German literature at the University of Bern, Switzerland before moving to the University of Oxford. Le Carré's intelligence officer character of George Smiley owes something to the Reverend Vivian Green who was Rector of Lincoln College, where le Carré read Modern Languages and graduated with a First Class Honours degree.

With a literary career spanning almost 60 years, le Carré's evocative accounts of the cold war era in novels such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974) and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) were drawn in part from his own experiences working for MI5 and MI6. In later life, he drew from the enduring influence of his time as an undergraduate at Oxford with novels such as Our Kind of Traitor (2010) which features a young Oxford academic who becomes embroiled in a murky Establishment intelligence plot.

Between 2010 and 2013, the Bodleian Libraries became the proud recipient of le Carré's literary archive, which filled a space the size of a Cornish barn and now takes up 90 metres of shelving in the Image of a handwritten note by John le Carré offering his archive to the Bodleianlibraries. Including handwritten drafts, proofs and personal papers, the archive is expected to be of great importance to future literary historians and biographers. When announcing the decision in 2011 to place his archive in the Bodleian Libraries, 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.'

Bodley's Librarian, Richard Ovenden OBE, said on hearing the sad news of le Carré's passing:

'I was privileged to have known David and was enormously grateful that he agreed to place his archive in the Bodleian, where students and scholars have been enjoying the insight it provides into his masterworks. He was a giant of our culture as a whole, not just to the world of letters. Few writers have produced a body of work so uniform in both quality and in critical and popular acclaim. He remained at the top of his game right up to his most recent work, Agent Running in the Field. His death leaves an unfillable gap in English literature.'

Image credit: portrait of John le Carré © Stephen Cornwell

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