crown CU Home > Libraries Home
Columbia University Libraries Archival CollectionsRare Book & Manuscript Library Collections

   Sighle Kennedy Papers, circa 1920s-1996 [Bulk Dates: 1963-1996].

Download and Print CitationContact Bookmark Share

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Sighle Kennedy Papers, Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


The majority of the Sighle Kennedy Papers consists of notes, research materials and drafts related to Kennedy’s scholarly work on Samuel Beckett’s novels, plays, and poetry. Most of this material was produced or gathered from the 1970s–1990s, during which Kennedy worked as a professor in the English department at Hunter College in New York City. The Papers contain correspondence between Kennedy and Beckett from 1967-1988, as well as two autograph letters from Beckett to his relative Harry Sinclair, one written in 1937 and one in 1938. The correspondence also includes letters Kennedy wrote to and received from other Beckett scholars. A small number of audio recordings (including gramophone records from the 1920s), several prints, including four by the Irish artist Jack Butler Yeats, and a number of annotated books complete this collection.

At a Glance

Bib ID:6340435 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Kennedy, Sighle.
Title:Sighle Kennedy Papers, circa 1920s-1996 [Bulk Dates: 1963-1996].
Physical description:13.91 linear feet ( 21 document boxes, 2 note card boxes, 2 oversized boxes, 4 record boxes).
Language(s):In English, French, German, and Italian.
Access: This collection has no restrictions. This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Reading Room. Please consult the Rare Book and Manuscript Library for further information.  More information »



The Papers are arranged by medium and by genre. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by sender, while Kennedy’s notes, drafts, and journals are arranged chronologically. In series IV-VII, dates in parentheses refer to the date the text was first produced or published; the date upon which Kennedy photocopied and/or annotated the text is very often unknown.

Arranged in eight series:

Return to top


Scope and Content

The Papers contain scholarly research-related materials gathered and/or produced by Sighle Kennedy during her years as a graduate student in Columbia University's English department (1963-1969) and as a professor at Hunter College (1968-1985). These materials consist of handwritten notes, note cards, drafts (autograph and typed), photocopies, photographs and annotated scholarly journals and books related to Kennedy's work on Samuel Beckett, with lesser amounts on Joyce, Dante, and other writers in whom Kennedy was interested. The collection also includes correspondence between Kennedy and Beckett; letters to and from and other Beckett scholars, academic and trade publishers, and special collections librarians; copies of several articles published by Kennedy, and her book, "Murphy's Bed". The Papers are completed by a small collection of audio materials used by Kennedy in her teaching; by a number of prints, including several by the Irish artist Jack Butler Yeats; and by four boxes of books annotated by Kennedy.

Series I: Correspondence, 1937-1992 [Bulk Dates: 1967-1992]

This series primarily consists of letters written to and from Kennedy during her scholarly career. Kennedy kept carbon copies of many of her own letters, including those she wrote to Samuel Beckett. (Kennedy had pasted her letters to Beckett in a protective binder, from which they have been removed and which left their pages striped by glue.) Other correspondents include: Mary Doll, Richard Ellman, John Fletcher, James Gilvarry, Stanley E. Gontarski, Lawrence E. Harvey, John Kelly, James Knowlson, A.J. Leventhal, Jérôme Lindon (of Les Éditions de Minuit, Beckett’s French publisher), George O. Marshall, Jr., W. Kelly Morris and Richard Schechner (of the Tulane Drama Review), Eoin T. O’Brien, John Pilling, and representatives of the Columbia, Dartmouth, Ohio State, Texas, and Washington University Libraries, of the Modern Language Association, and scholarly publishers the Associated University Press, Bucknell University Press, and Princeton University Press. Of note are the letters from TDR’s Morris and editor Schechner (later a professor at New York University and a major figure in the field of performance studies); they are two very harsh critiques of Kennedy’s first journal article attempt. That Kennedy, then still a graduate student, kept the letters is illustrative of her character.

Also present in this series are two autograph letters from Beckett to his uncle’s brother, Harry Sinclair, one written in October 1937 and one dated 2 February 1938, and one photocopy of a typed letter draft, in German, from Beckett to his friend Axel Kaun, dated 9 July 1937. The Sinclair letters were written during the time of the libel suit (eventually successful) brought against the Irish writer, politician, physician and wit Oliver St. John Gogarty for his portrayal of the Sinclair family in his 1937 memoir As I Was Going Down Sackville Street. Beckett’s affidavit in the case was taken on 12 May 1937. The second letter reports on the status of Beckett’s health following his hospitalization for a stab wound to his lung given to him on 7 January 1938 by a Parisian pimp, apparently for no reason. Beckett wrote the letter from the Hotel Liberia in Paris, where he was convalescing.

Series II: Early scholarly work by Sighle Kennedy, 1963-1969

Located here is the scholarly work that Kennedy produced while in graduate school at Columbia University, including notebooks Kennedy filled while studying for her comprehensive exams, a typed carbon copy of her dissertation proposal, a leather-bound copy of her dissertation, and early drafts and a final copy of an unpublished 1966 article entitled “An Obscure Key to Waiting for Godot” (see Box 1, Folders 25 and 30 in the Correspondence series for letters related to this article).

Series III: Scholarly material for projected Watt monograph, 1969-1996

This series contains materials gathered and produced by Kennedy during the long period in which she researched and drafted what she hoped would be a monograph on Beckett’s development of Watt from manuscript to publication. Photocopies of literary and scholarly writings — here called “research materials” — have been separated from Kennedy’s loose notes, notebooks and drafts. Many of the research materials are annotated by Kennedy.

Subseries III.1: Watt materials at the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas-Austin

The research materials include lightly annotated photocopies of Beckett’s manuscript notebooks and typescripts for Watt. Kennedy’s initial notes on the materials are also placed here.

Subseries III.2: Watt and other Beckett materials at other universities

This small subseries contains photocopied excerpts of the Beckett materials housed at OSU and Washington U. — the Watt galleys, the manuscripts and typescripts of Happy Days and That Time — and Kennedy’s notes on them. Also included here are photocopies of catalogues listing Reading’s and TCD’s Beckett holdings.

Subseries III.3: Notes and drafts for the Watt monograph, undated

Contained in this subseries are the notes and drafts Kennedy assigned to specific sections of the projected monograph. The sections, which are designated by a combination of roman numerals and letters, correspond to her outline (Folder 1). Notes and drafts not assigned to a specific section are located afterward. An undated draft of a scholarly article related to this project, “A Hidden Passage in the History of Samuel Beckett’s Art: His Early Notebooks of Watt, ” completes this grouping.

Subseries III.4: Notes and drafts for Watt monograph, 1969-1996

Subseries 4 includes dated notebooks, loose notes and drafts Kennedy wrote while working on the Watt project. The notebooks occasionally feature revealing diary-style entries on a number of topics, which range from her first meeting with Beckett in Paris (in the summer of 1973), to her attitude toward the Irish writer and toward her own scholarly work and abilities. The drafts show Kennedy’s intensive revision process; she heavily annotated, rearranged and reworked passages multiple times. This group of material also contains two further drafts of a long essay version of the Watt monograph, one dated 1982 and one submitted posthumously by Kennedy’s sister, Sr. Ethne Kennedy, in 1997 (it is dated here 1996 because this is the latest version of the draft extant in Kennedy’s files upon her death that year).

Subseries III.5: Assigned research material for Watt monograph, undated

Placed here are the research materials Kennedy had gathered for specific sections of the Watt project. The folders in which these photocopies were contained, and some of the documents themselves, are labeled with section numbers. The assignments themselves are occasionally unclear — some documents have more than one section number written on them — but every effort has been made to reproduce as much of the structure of Kennedy’s projected monograph as is possible based on the organization of her research materials.

Subseries III.6: Unassigned research material for Watt monograph, undated

This small subseries contains research materials which Kennedy had not assigned to a section of her Watt study. They include newspaper clippings, photocopies taken from books — including the published German-language director’s book for Waiting for Godot — and a photocopy of an untitled document which details, in English, the changes Beckett made to the Godot script when he directed the play in German in 1975. Also placed here are photocopies and photographs of paintings — by Caspar David Friedrich, Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Giovanni Bellini, James Slatney and Hieronymus Bosch — related to Kennedy’s Watt research.

Series IV: Scholarly material for related projects on Beckett, circa 1978-1996

Series IV houses notebooks, loose notes, note cards, drafts, and research materials on Beckett’s relationships to other writers and thinkers. While these studies may have emerged from Kennedy’s work on Watt — and in fact some of her Watt notes appear intermittently here — the projects seem to have eventually taken on a life of their own, and contributed to at least one of Kennedy’s published articles and to another projected book (on Beckett and Dante).

Subseries IV.1: Beckett and Arnold Geulincx, 1985-1989

Subseries 1 features notes, drafts, and photocopied research material related to Kennedy’s research on the connections between Beckett’s writing and that of Arnold Geulincx, a seventeenth-century Flemish philosopher whose work concerned ethics and the mind-body relationship. Related articles on Erasmus also appear here. Many of these materials are annotated by Kennedy.

Subseries IV.2: Beckett and Dante, 1980-1996

Subseries 2 contains notes and drafts Kennedy produced during her study of Beckett’s relationship to Dante. The bulk of the grouping consists of Kennedy’s research material: photocopies of literary works, scholarly articles and chapters, and occasionally encyclopedia entries, on Dante and related writers including Augustine, Aquinas, Democritus, and Peter Abelard. Many, but not all, of these photocopies are annotated by Kennedy. Most of the scholarly articles are in English, though some are in Italian.

Subseries IV.3: Beckett and James Joyce, 1978-1989

Subseries 3 consists of research materials (including periodicals), notes, and drafts which address James Joyce, and also Beckett’s relationship to his mentor. Three variously titled drafts of an article-length work on the Joyce-Beckett connection allow one to follow Kennedy’s writing process.

Subseries IV.4: Scholarly material on other writing by Beckett (1929-1983), undated

Contained in Subseries 4 are annotated photocopies of and notes on other writings produced by Beckett between 1929 and 1983, including Waiting for Godot, the long-unpublished Dream of Fair to Middling Women and Eleuthéria, and many of Beckett’s shorter works (including reviews and poems). Of special interest is the 1962 unrevised typescript for Play, which Kennedy’s attached note indicates was given to her in May 1973. (It is unclear who typed this draft of Beckett’s play, though the corrections to the script are not in the author’s hand.)

Subseries IV.5: Notes and research material on Samuel Beckett, general (1934-1996)

Subseries 5 collects notes and research material on Beckett that Kennedy had not assigned to a particular scholarly project. Included are Kennedy’s notecards, scholarly and newspaper articles in English and in French, and a newspaper clipping file that contains articles published from 1958-1996. Also housed here is a group of periodicals containing scholarly writing on Beckett, most of which has been annotated by Kennedy.

Series V: Other scholarly and Beckett-related printed material, 1970-1996

Series V features printed programs for a number of events, including productions of plays by Beckett and other dramatists and for conferences devoted to Beckett’s work. Also included here are printed materials on Padraic Colum, William Butler Yeats and A.J. (Con) Leventhal; documents gathered or produced by Kennedy for her teaching; and a few printed items (including maps) that she collected during trips to Ireland and France.

Series VI: Published scholarly writing by Sighle Kennedy, 1970 - 1990

Series VI contains typed copies and off-prints of Kennedy’s published scholarly work.

Subseries VI.1: Conference papers and proposals, 1979-1986

One conference paper abstract, for a 1979 talk, and one draft, from 1986, are featured in this small subseries.

Subseries VI.2: Published articles, book reviews, and monograph,1970-1990

Contained in this subseries are off-prints of six articles and a photocopy of one book review published by Kennedy. Her book, Murphy’s Bed, and clippings of reviews of her publications are also featured.

Series VII: Audio and visual material, circa 1920s-1986

Subseries VII.1: Audio cassette tapes, 1966-1986

This subseries consists of Beckett- and Joyce-related audio cassette tapes that Kennedy apparently used in her teaching. All but two are copies.

Subseries VII.2: Records, LP and Gramophone, circa 1920s-1966

Included here are two LPs, one of James Joyce reading excerpts of his writing, and one of the actor Jack MacGowran reading selections from Beckett’s work. Three records, which feature recordings of Irish songs and performances of early twentieth century revolutionary speeches, are Beltona gramophone discs produced sometime after 1923. “Thomas MacDonagh’s Court-Martial Speech” is damaged (the disc is chipped on its outside edge).

Subseries VII.3: Visual Art and Related Material, undated

Kennedy owned several small hand-colored woodcuts by Jack B. Yeats, including “The Shanachie,” made at the Cuala Press (owned and operated by Yeats’s sister, Elizabeth Corbet Yeats), two untitled illustrations of a seaside horse race, and one untitled image of a village crier. They are included in this series, as are two Japanese wood block prints by Hiroshige (the accompanying receipt, dated December 1958, guarantees that these are “at least 150 years old”), and one hand-colored card by M. Roberts depicting O’Connell Street. Three of the Yeats and both of the Hiroshige prints are oversized and are located in map case 14-O-2.

Subseries VII.4: Photographs, 1963-1974

This small subseries includes a group of black-and-white photographs of a New York City production of Endgame credited to Alix Jeffry, a prominent photographer of the Off-Broadway theater scene from the 1950s to the 1980s. (The folder in which the photos had been housed was dated 1974, which indicates that the prints were made and/or sent then; the photos themselves may be images of the 1958 American premiere at the Cherry Lane Theater, or its 1962 revival.) A photograph of a sketch in Beckett’s Trinity College notebooks served as the cover for Murphy’s Bed; several copies are included here. Two photographs of Beckett’s abandoned 1963 manuscript “J.M. Mime” — written for his favorite actor Jack McGowran — also reside here.

Series VIII: Books Annotated by Sighle Kennedy

Housed in four record boxes are books annotated by Sighle Kennedy. Most are paperbacks.

Subseries VIII.1: Books by Samuel Beckett in French

This subseries features titles from Molloy to Compagnie; all but one of these books was published by Les Editions de Minuit.

Subseries VIII.2: Books by Samuel Beckett in English

Some of these books, many of which are Evergreen-Grove paperbacks, are very heavily annotated; Kennedy appears to have purchased second copies of several of them in order to take an additional set of marginal notes.

Subseries VIII.3: Books about Samuel Beckett

These are largely scholarly books, many of them classics in the now-enormous field of Beckett studies. Many are paperbacks.

Subseries VIII.4: Books about James Joyce

This small subseries features scholarly and trade books about Beckett’s friend and mentor, James Joyce.

Subseries VIII.5: Translation of Books by Dante

As with the Beckett books in English, Kennedy seems to have purchased second copies of crucial Dante translations so as to add further marginalia. Featured here are several now-standard English translations of Dante’s writings; most are paperbacks, though also included are a 1904 hardcover edition of D.G. Rossetti’s translation of the Vita Nuova and a 1932 hardcover copy of The Modern Library’s Carlyle-Wicksteed translation of the Commedia. Translations are alphabetized by title and then by translator.

Subseries VIII.6: Books about Dante or Related to Kennedy's Dante Project

Here are scholarly books in English on Dante; also included are bound volumes of Lectura Dantis. An edition of Vico (grouped by Beckett with Dante, Bruno and Joyce in his famous early essay) and the Loeb Classical Library’s Virgil are also present.

Subseries VIII.7: Other Books

This small subseries primarily contains books on ancient Greek and medieval Christian philosophy and literature.

Return to top

Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

This collection has no restrictions.

 This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Reading Room. Please consult the Rare Book and Manuscript Library for further information.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Sighle Kennedy Papers, Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Finding aid in repository; folder level control.

Return to top

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Papers processed 2007 Jennifer Buckley, GSAS 2010.

Finding Aid written by November 2007 Jennifer Buckley.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion November 7, 2008 Finding aid written in English.
    2008-11-07 File created.
    2009/01/15 xml document instange created by Patrick Lawlor
    2009/05/29 xml document instange created by Catherine N. Carson

Return to top

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989--Correspondence.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989--Criticism and interpretation.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989--Dramatic works.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989--Fiction.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989--Manuscripts--Facsimiles.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989.--Murphy.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989.--Watt.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Colum, Padraic, 1881-1972.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Drama--20th century--History and criticism.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Ellmann, Richard, 1918-1987.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Fiction--20th century--History and criticism.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Fletcher, John, 1937-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
French literature--20th century--History and criticism.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
French literature--20th century.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Geulincx, Arnold, 1624-1669.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Gilvarry, James, 1914-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Gontarski, S. E.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Harvey, Lawrence E., 1925-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Irish literature--20th century--History and criticism.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Irish literature--20th century.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941--Criticism and interpretation.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Kennedy, Sighle.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Knowlson, James.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Leventhal, A. J. (Abraham Jacob), 1896-1979.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Lindon, Jérôme, 1925-2001.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
O'Brien, Eoin.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Pilling, John.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Schechner, Richard, 1934-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Universities and colleges--New York (State)PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Universities and colleges--United States--Faculty.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Women--Education (Higher)--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Yeats, Jack Butler, 1871-1957.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

Return to top

History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Sighle Aileen Kennedy was born on 27 July 1919 in the United States to parents who had emigrated from Ireland in the first decade of the twentieth century. She received her undergraduate degree from Manhattanville College. After spending eight years as a reporter for an architectural and engineering journal, and twelve years working for Catholic Relief Services in countries including South Korea, Kennedy began graduate studies in English literature at Columbia University in 1963.

At Columbia, Kennedy was advised by Professor William York Tindall, whom she later honored with an essay in the festschrift Modern Irish Literature (1972). The notebook she kept while reading for her comprehensive exams (Box 2, Folder 1)--part study aid, part diary--shows Kennedy to have been a sensitive, insightful and enthusiastic reader of modern English-language literature, one who was drawn very early in her scholarly career to the writings of Samuel Beckett. Her first comments on Watt, the 1953 Beckett novel that would become her scholarly preoccupation for the next thirty years, reveal Kennedy to have been both horrified by (“His visions are explicitly disgusting. Dear old Ireland--what have we done to ourselves?”) and deeply interested in the book. Several entries in the notebook establish that Kennedy was a devout Catholic, one who took her religion seriously enough to question both her faith and behavior and the church as an institution. The diary also reveals the extent to which sexism pervaded academe in the era; one November 1963 entry briefly recounts a visit with a Columbia professor who, Kennedy reports, advised her that “teaching in a college . . . is something at which a woman is at a disadvantage.” Nevertheless, Kennedy pressed on, passed her exams, and moved on to the dissertation stage.

By 1966, Kennedy had decided to make Beckett's writings the subject of her doctoral study, and in 1969 she was awarded the Ph.D. after completing her dissertation, "Murphy's Bed: A Study of Real Sources and Sur-real Associations in Samuel Beckett's First Novel." The dissertation served as the first draft of her monograph, which was published in 1971 under the same title. Just before earning the Ph.D., Kennedy, ignoring her Columbia professor's advice, joined the faculty of Hunter College, one of the more prestigious institutions within the City University of New York system. She was an Assistant and then an Associate Professor in Hunter's English department from 1968-1985, teaching courses ranging from "Expository Writing," to "Women's Search for Self," to modern British literature surveys, to seminars on James Joyce and on Samuel Beckett.

In 1967, while working on her dissertation, Kennedy decided to write Beckett a letter related to her research on Murphy. Beckett answered, and he continued to answer her letters for the next twenty years, responding to her questions (to the extent that he ever answered anyone's questions about his writing) and giving her permission to reproduce selections from his unpublished manuscripts. During the early stages of her research for a planned monograph on Watt, Kennedy visited Paris, and met with Beckett for the first time in the summer of 1973. Though Kennedy's attitude towards Beckett was complicated--as would be the attitude of any scholar working with a living writer --the two appear to have gotten along well. Many of Beckett's letters to Kennedy reveal the warmth and generosity for which he was well known among friends and associates, but which was largely unsuspected by the reading public.

In the early 1970s, Kennedy decided that her second scholarly book would focus on Watt, and specifically on how the novel developed across the manuscript and typescript drafts. To that end, Kennedy traveled to libraries to gather material. The most important of these trips was her visit to the Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which holds the notebooks in which Beckett wrote his first draft of Watt as well as the typescript of his revised version. While Kennedy produced an outline of her book's proposed structure and arranged some of her research materials and notes accordingly, she was unable to complete the monograph. An article-length version of the work was posthumously published through the efforts of her sister, Sr. Ethne Kennedy (1922-2005), in Dalhousie French Studies in 1998.

While teaching and intermittently working on the Watt project, Kennedy also published several scholarly articles on Beckett and on the connections between his work and that of Joyce and Dante. She appears to have taught herself to read Italian so as to read Dante's writings in their original language. Her research materials show that Kennedy had become increasingly interested in Beckett's philosophical influences, including the 17th century Flemish thinker Arnold Geulincx and the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

After Sighle Kennedy's death on 18 August 1996, Sr. Ethne Kennedy (of the Society of Helpers) completed a preliminary organization of her sister's research materials and work-related correspondence. Her handwriting is visible on the covers of many of Sighle Kennedy's notebooks, and in many cases her descriptions of their contents have been retained in this finding aid. Very little purely personal material is included in this collection, though a reading of Kennedy's notes, drafts, letters and especially her notebook entries reveals much about the delight she found in, and the sustenance she drew from, literature during three decades which appear to have been almost totally devoted to reading, research and teaching.

Return to top