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The history boy

Razia Iqbal | 09:11 UK time, Friday, 24 October 2008

bennett2006_bbc226.jpgThere is clearly something in the air.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the archive of the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes had been acquired by the British Library.

Full of poignant insights into his thought processes and his emotions about his second wife, Sylvia Plath, it is a treasure trove for scholars and those even vaguely interested in writing.

And just a few days ago, the Nobel Laureate, Doris Lessing, made a gift of some 100 letters to the University of East Anglia.

One of them revealed why she turned down the offer to be made a Dame, because of Britain's "non-existent Empire".

Today it has been announced that Alan Bennett is presenting his papers as a gift to the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford.

Bennett doesn't have a computer, and re-writes quite a lot; much of the archive is handwritten, which according to him "seems to delight the archivists, but it's always dismayed me and there's so much I'm quite glad to see the back of it".

And characteristically, he is treating the gift as an obligation repaid.

He says: "I say with some pride that I had a state education: school, university.

"None of it cost me or my parents a penny. It's a situation which young people in education today can only dream of and this is wrong".

Now, these three writers are unique and their work is of enormous interest.

But the rest of us - well, we're not blessed with major or even minor literary genius, but I'll bet there is a treasure trove of letters out there. Jottings, attempts at literature, and so on.

So here's my question. What would you bequeath to the nation?


  • Comment number 1.

    i doubt any of us knows what we will leave behind of value - and that includes the like of hughes, lessing and bennet.

    i was lucky enough to learn latin at school; i consider it an immense privilege to be able to read pliny, vergil and catullus in their own language.

    it also makes the hair on the back of my neck bristle when i see the ritual curses second century roman shoppers dropped into the waters at bath: those messages were never intended as everlasting treasure - but they are. (the inscriptions from slaves' collars are just as evocative).

    nahum tate wrote a great deal of very serious poetry - all now forgotten - but 'while shepherds watched their flocks by night' gives him a permanent place in english literature. the pastons are remembered for their family letters. history may judge us differently from how we judge ourselves.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am a minor composer and I will be leaving my manuscripts to my old University Library. I think it's important to put something back creatively in your life - even if it's something that is passed on only in the family.

    In this digital age, so much of what we do is stored electronically - and maybe will become lost as technology progresses. It will be a shame if all this is lots.

    It is still the permanent things, paper, paintings, sculpture, anything tangible and real that will survive.


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