The dystopian visionary’s manuscript is part of an archive being saved for the nation in order to pay death duties
A sketchy handwritten first draft of Empire of the Sun is one of the highlights of the archive of J G Ballard acquired last week by the British Library.
The original manuscript of the late author’s best-known novel, complete with corrections and margin notes, will join the letters, notebooks and school reports that chronicle the life of perhaps the greatest dystopian visionary of the 20th century in a hoard of documents secured for the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.
This century-old practice allows the families of deceased luminaries to offer works of art or important documents to public institutions as a way of settling death duties, in this case £350,000 in tax.
Ballard died last year at the age of 78 following a long illness. The personal documents going to the British Library illustrate his determined and imaginative working methods. “Some of those individual pages are works of art. There’s a determination and in some cases a violence,” said Jamie Andews, the library’s head of modern literary manuscripts.
A line from the 16-year-old Ballard’s school report also speaks of his early talent. “He has remarkable ability and general knowledge. With greater concentration his work could be even better,” judged his English teacher.
Ballard grew up in Shanghai and was interned with his family in a Japanese camp during the second world war. His recollections were the basis for Empire of the Sun. He moved to Britain, and by the 1960s had become a full-time author.
Securing the archive is a coup for the AIL scheme, which has been unable to compete with the lucrative appeal of American academic archives in recent years. Many authors and public figures have been drawn across the Atlantic and rely on the large sums offered for financial security in their later life.