Pinter's Beckett First Edition returned to Library

Late library book returned
Harold Pinter

A news story reported by The Times back in December: a Samuel Beckett first edition of Murphy, borrowed by the late Harold Pinter, is returned after a 'pause' of fifty-nine years:
In 1950 Harold Pinter borrowed a first edition book by Samuel Beckett from the Central Library in Bermondsey. There was a pause before the library saw it again.

A 59-year pause, to be precise, lengthy even by the late Nobel prize-winning playwright’s standards.

Pinter had no intention of returning Murphy — describing the prolonged loan as an act that he had “never regretted” — but now the antiquarian bookseller that sold Pinter’s library has returned the book so that he can buy it back off Southwark Council for £2,000 and reunite it with the rest of the collection.

Pinter died last Christmas Eve, and the London antiquarian booksellers Maggs Bros have been preparing a catalogue of his nearly 5,000 books after their sale to a private collector.

In a speech opening the Reading Beckett exhibition in 1971, Pinter openly admitted to stealing it.

“Sometime in 1949, somewhere in Ireland, I happened to pick up a copy of a magazine called Irish Writing, turned the pages, and came across a passage ... I continued to read this passage, my hair standing on end. The title was Extract from Watt by Samuel Beckett. I had never heard of him; nor had anyone I knew in London. Not even the Westminster Public Library knew the name. But eventually they unearthed a book, Murphy, which had been resting in the Bermondsey Public Reserve Library since 1938.

“The book, in fact, I could tell from the stamping, had not been read since that date. I therefore took possession of it; my one criminal act, as far as I know. But I have never regretted it, though I don’t recommend it as general practice.”

Ed Maggs, of Maggs Bros, said that the discovery of the book had left him in “something of a quandary”.

“It definitely belonged with the rest of the Pinter collection: it represents the intensity of Pinter’s feeling for Beckett, and provides a direct connection with this important formative period. However, a stolen book is a stolen book, no matter how sincere an act of homage the theft was, and we don’t deal in stolen books. It’s something we take seriously.” [Read the article]