Tinker Tailor Writer Spy

World Book Day display, 3 March 2011

John le Carré, one of the world’s most celebrated authors, has offered his literary archive to Oxford’s Bodleian Library with the intention that it should become its permanent home.

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.’   

To mark the arrival of the archive, the Bodleian is displaying a small selection of le Carré’s working papers for members of the public to see on World Book Day, Thursday 3 March. This will include sections from the various handwritten and typed drafts of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which show how the novel evolved in the process of composition from its early working title, ‘The Reluctant Autumn of George Smiley’, to the final published text. The display will also include private photographs of le Carré with Alec Guinness, who memorably starred in the 1979 BBC series, as well as manuscripts of two of le Carré’s own favourite novels, The Tailor of Panama and The Constant Gardener.

John le Carré is the nom de plume of David John Moore Cornwell. His writing career spans 50 years and 22 novels which have been translated into 36 languages and adapted for film, TV and radio. He is renowned for his intricate espionage and political fiction, and for the creation of one of modern literature’s most subtle and carefully crafted protagonists, George Smiley. 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. He has also pointed to the enduring influence upon him of his time as an undergraduate at Oxford. The complex and brilliantly drawn character of Smiley owes something to the Rev. Vivian Green who was Rector of Lincoln College, where le Carré read Modern Languages and graduated with a First Class Honours degree. Previously, Green had been Chaplain at Sherborne School while le Carré was a pupil. More recent novels such as The Constant Gardener and The Mission Song have left behind the complexities of the cold war in favour of more pressing global issues of our times. In le Carré’s words, “The almost unimaginable poverty of Nairobi’s slums, depicted in The Constant Gardener, provoked the formation of a registered British charity by the producers and crew working on the film adaptation. The Constant Gardener Trust continues to provide precious educational resources in the remote Turkana area of northern Kenya, where parts of the novel were set.” Le Carré’s most recent novel, Our Kind of Traitor, published in September 2010, features a young Oxford academic who becomes embroiled in a murky Establishment intelligence plot.

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