Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Sighle Kennedy papers, 1920s-1996, bulk 1963-1996

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

Call No.: MS#0701
Bib ID 6340435 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Kennedy, Sighle, 1919-1996
Title Sighle Kennedy papers, 1920s-1996, bulk 1963-1996
Physical Description 13.91 linear feet (21 document boxes 2 note card boxes 2 oversized boxes 4 record boxes)
Language(s) English , Italian , French , German .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three 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.



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.



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 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

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

  • Series VIII: Books Annotated by Sighle Kennedy

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

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three 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.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. 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.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Sr. Ethne Kennedy. Method of acquisition--Donation; Date of acquisition--1997.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Jennifer Buckley, GSAS 2010 2007.

Finding Aid written by Jennifer Buckley November 2007.

Collection is processed to folder level.

Revision Description

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

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

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.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Colum, Padraic, 1881-1972 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Drama -- 20th century -- History and criticism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Ellmann, Richard, 1918-1987 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Fletcher, John, 1937- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
French literature -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
French literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Geulincx, Arnold, 1624-1669 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gilvarry, James Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gontarski, S. E. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Harvey, Lawrence E. (Lawrence Elliot) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Irish literature -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Irish literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Joyce, James, 1882-1941 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kennedy, Sighle, 1919-1996 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Knowlson, James Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Leventhal, A. J (Abraham Jacob), 1896-1979 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lindon, Jérôme, 1925-2001 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
O'Brien, Eoin Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Pilling, John Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Schechner, Richard, 1934- Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Universities and colleges -- New York (State) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Universities and colleges -- United States -- Faculty Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Women -- Education (Higher) -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Yeats, Jack B (Jack Butler), 1871-1957 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

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.