The Department of Special Collections and University Archives, located on the fifth floor of McFarlin Library, is home to an array of invaluable artifacts, books, ephemera, and more. The most recent addition to the collection, the Margaret Murray Gooding Collection of V.S. Naipaul Papers, complements the existing Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad (V.S.) Naipaul life archive, purchased by The University of Tulsa in 1993.
Naipaul, a Trinidadian British writer of Indo-Trinidadian heritage, is renowned for his novels that explore the legacy of the British Empire’s colonialism. Most known for “A House for Mr. Biswas,” “In a Free State,” “A Bend in the River,” and “The Enigma of Arrival,” Naipaul’s accolades include the 1971 Booker Prize, the 1983 Jerusalem Prize, and the 2001 Nobel Prize in literature.
An intimate perspective
Margaret Murray Gooding was an Anglo-Argentinian who became one of Naipaul’s lovers after they met in 1972. Together, the pair embarked on international travels to gather research and inspiration for his books. Their relationship was marred by domestic abuse as detailed in the Patrick French biography, “The World Is What It Is.”
Melissa Kunz, director of Special Collections & University Archives, emphasized two critical elements to consider and study regarding the new Gooding collection: power dynamics and agency. Kunz noted, “Accounts of their relationship seem to relegate Gooding to the background, as a female figure who submissively received Naipaul’s physical passion and violence.”
In French’s biography, Naipaul claimed Gooding did not mind the abuse. Gooding disagrees: “Vidia says I didn’t mind the abuse. I certainly did.”
Kunz has been particularly mindful of this statement while curating and preparing this collection, which, apart from two photographs of Gooding herself, predominately contains materials related to Naipaul.
The collection displays Naipaul’s vulnerabilities and moments of self-doubt as a writer and creative, Kunz said.
“Margaret placed them in TU’s Special Collections without any restrictions,” she added, “which means they’re fully accessible to scholars right now.” This stands in contrast to Naipaul’s life archive, which contains some items that are restricted from research for a number of years after his death. “The choice Margaret made to have her materials open and available feels perhaps pointed, as if that in itself is a message to scholars,” Kunz said.
Journey to acquisition
The acquisition, funded by the Francis W. O’Hornet endowment, was made possible through a year-long negotiation with Gooding family members and bookseller and appraiser Alex Obercian of Bull’s Head Bookshop in New Jersey.
Obercian initiated contact with Special Collections in late 2022 as a representative of Gooding and her family. Gooding was ready to sell the letters, telegrams, and other items she had received from Naipaul during their relationship.
“My intent from the start was to approach this acquisition with care and empathy for her experience,” said Kunz. “It’s difficult for anyone to part with personal materials, let alone intimate and sometimes graphic letters in what was ultimately a very difficult and abusive relationship.” Both the Special Collections department and Gooding’s family were glad to reach an agreement that left both parties satisfied.
Protecting the collection
Kunz underscores the responsible handling of the collection, paying special attention to its physical condition and the legal process of transit between countries, a critical aspect for archival librarians.
Given the intimate nature of the correspondence from Naipaul to Gooding in this collection, the Special Collections team has taken steps to ensure that the letters and items are stable and protected while remaining accessible for study. The team uses folders and chemically coated boxes specifically designed for archival storage to prevent environmental contaminants, allowing students and scholars to experience seeing the collection firsthand for years to come.
To safeguard objects within the Gooding collection, the team utilizes plastic sleeves or enclosures, ensuring that objects remain visible and legible to researchers while protecting their unique or fragile elements from damage and deterioration.
Kunz highlighted another important task of creating a finding aid or inventory of all items in a collection. “We do our best to approach this work with a balance between neutrality and awareness of sensitive topics so that researchers have a clear and honest understanding of what the collection contains while not sensationalizing its contents or context,” said Kunz.
An invitation to scholars
In total, the collection consists of 42 letters from Naipaul to Gooding written between 1972 and the mid-1980s, 17 telegrams, and a small number of miscellaneous materials such as notes, photographs and negatives, stamps, postcards, and correspondence from others addressed to Naipaul and Gooding.
Collections as complementary as the Margaret Murray Gooding Collection and the V.S. Naipaul Life Archive enhance McFarlin’s reputation as a distinguished American library. In the words of Provost George Justice, “Anytime a single university owns the papers of a Nobel-prize-winning writer, that university becomes a fulcrum for research not only now but into the future. Naipaul doesn’t fit into a box, and that makes it challenging, but rewarding, for researchers to engage with his materials. We are eager for those researchers to come to TU.”
We invite you to explore the treasures within McFarlin Library’s Special Collections. For more information or to plan your visit, head to the homepage and start your research inquiries today.