Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Spring 2004 Newsletter

Ransom Center acquires the archive of Julian Barnes


Julian Barnes, Ransom Center Collections.


Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot (1984).

The Ransom Center has acquired the archive of internationally renowned novelist Julian Barnes. According to Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley, "One of Britain's major writers, Barnes is a versatile man of letters. From Flaubert's Parrot to Love, Etc., Barnes' fiction is rich and entertaining. His prose is as playful as it is supple and rich. Americans are especially taken with his column in The New Yorker, 'Letter from London.'" The acquisition of the Barnes archive is further proof of the Center's commitment to collecting the best contemporary authors in the world.

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester, England on January 19, 1946, educated at the City of London School from 1957 to 1964, and attended Magdalen College, Oxford, from which he graduated with honors in 1968. He then took a position as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary where he worked in what he refers to as the "sports and dirty words department." In 1977, Barnes began working as a reviewer and literary editor for the New Statesman and the New Review, later serving as television critic for the New Statesman and the Observer.

Barnes' first novel, Metroland, was published in 1980, and received the Somerset Maugham Award. He then published two crime novels under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh, followed by his second novel, Before She Met Me, under his own name.

In 1984, Jonathan Cape published Flaubert's Parrot, which was subsequently shortlisted for the coveted Booker Prize, and became Barnes' cornerstone accomplishment. In the novel, Barnes quotes a line from Flaubert's classic Madame Bovary: "Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity." These words demonstrate the struggle Flaubert experienced in pursuit of le mot juste and serve as a central truth in Barnes' novel. Flaubert's Parrot figures at once as a meditation on the uses and misuses of language and follows one man's obsessive quest for the ghost of Flaubert.

Barnes has since received another Booker nomination (England, England 1998), a Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (Flaubert's Parrot 1985), the E. M. Forster Award (American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1986), and the Gutenberg Prize (1987). He also has the distinction of being the first Englishman to have won both the Prix Médicis (Flaubert's Parrot 1986) and the Prix Femina (Talking It Over 1992), and was made an Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1995. Two of Barnes novels have been adapted for the screen: Metroland, starring Emily Watson and Christian Bale, and Love, Etc. Writes Barnes of the archive, "Everything I do from the moment I am faced by what I recognize as the possibility -- or pre-possibility -- of a novel is contained within the Archive."  

Travis Willmann
Public Affairs

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