Monthly Archives: November 2010

Recording podcasts for the online exhibition

Oana Romocea, Communications Officer

We decided early on in the Shelley’s Ghost website project that we could help to bring to life the stories and voices contained within the exhibition’s manuscripts and letters if we recorded them being read and performed in a series of podcasts.

We started by working with the exhibiton curator, Stephen Hebron, to create a shortlist of exhibits that we felt would most benefit from being heard as well as seen. These included well-known poems by Shelley, extracts of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and personal family letters, including Harriet Shelley’s suicide note. We were also keen to try and use budding actors and actresses from the University of Oxford student body so we contacted the University’s Drama Officer who helped us to recruit seven willing volunteers.

We managed to do most of the recording in a day. The day itself was intense and punctuated with frequent and inevitable interruptions from noisy pipes, slamming doors and passing tourists chatting happily. We even had to banish a clock to the hallway for ticking too loudly.

The day was also extremely enjoyable. The enthusiasm of the student actors was quite inspiring and it was fascinating to see the variety of approaches and interpretations they brought to the pieces.

When we finished the recording, we asked the students how they had felt about the whole process. Perhaps my favourite summary of the day came from Annabel James (St. Hilda’s College) who said: “It was great to take part in the Bodleian’s Shelley exhibition because I learned so much about how an exhibition like this is put together, and I was able to work with letters and other documents that they don’t show you in an A-level Frankenstein class!”

You can listen to the podcasts as part of the Shelley’s Ghost online exhibition.

Exhibition installation day one

Madeline Slaven

The changeover period between exhibitions starts mundanely enough with maintenance visits by contractors to check the environmental monitoring equipment, air handling units, and alarm systems. The last thing you want is a malfunction after opening. Lifting the floor and descending into the ‘pit’ is an interesting reminder of what lies below and behind the carefully placed items seen by visitors to the exhibition.

For Shelley’s Ghost we want the visitors to the exhibition to be able to try out the exhibition website on their visit, but we first must lay ten metres of new cabling and move a data point. By mid-morning the contractors have left and we can re-lay the carpets, clear the room and start moving in the exhibits. This is always an exciting moment. First item out of the truck is Shelley’s guitar, securely if improbably housed in the kind of black and silver flight-case Oxford’s other famous poets, Radiohead, would use for their electric guitars.

How many words does it take to curate an exhibition?

Stephen Hebron, Exhibition Curator

Pages and pages of prose were first condensed into an accompanying book that eventually totalled around 35,000 words. A further 25,000 words then went into writing the introductory text and object descriptions for the Shelley’s Ghost website. Finally, 10,000 more words were needed for the exhibition labels that will be displayed in the exhibition room at the Bodleian.

So 35,000 + 25,000 + 10,000 = 70,000 words to date and counting…

Choosing exhibits for Shelley’s Ghost

Stephen Hebron, Exhibition Curator

Curating an exhibition is, like writing, a proces of looking things over and leaving things out. There are many 100s of items in the Shelley collections at the Bodleian alone, from notebooks, journals and letters to portraits and personal relics; Shelley’s Ghost contains just 117 exhibits in total and includes 12 on loan from The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, New York Public Library. Often what seems particularly fine early on gets rejected later on as the seemingly endless lists of possible exhibits gets steadily whittled down. You have to be ruthless. Does the object help with the story that the exhibition is telling? Is it interesting to look at? More prosaically, but just as importantly, will it fit? But, going back to the writing analogy, if rejected words get struck out, rejected exhibits are not, of course, disposed of – they remain on the shelves, ready to be consulted by researchers and, maybe, displayed in future exhibitions.

The idea behind the Shelley’s Ghost exhibition

Stephen Hebron, Exhibition Curator

After fifteen years of producing literary exhibitions (on, among others, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Tennyson and Dante) I was delighted to be asked by the Bodleian to curate Shelley’s Ghost. I remembered the great exhibition at the Bodleian, Shelley’s Guitar, from 1992 (the bicentenary of the poet’s birth) but after the Library’s purchase of the Abinger papers in 2004 I could see an opportunity for an exhibition on the whole family: not just Shelley himself but Mary Shelley, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and two less well-known but fascinating figures, Sir Percy and Jane, Lady Shelley. As well as the wonderful manuscripts, books and relics in the Bodleian, there was a chance to exhibit things that had never been seen before: the new portrait identified as Mary Shelley, and her travelling dressing-case. And the chance to work with The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle at New York Public Library as well made the whole thing more attractive.

Behind the scenes of Shelley’s Ghost

Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family is the winter 2010 exhibition from the Bodleian Libraries in partnership with the New York Public Library. As well as the physical exhibition that you can walk around, Shelley’s Ghost is also supported by an online exhibition ( and an accompanying book of the same name.

The exhibition brings together manuscripts, letters and personal relics associated with one of our greatest literary families: Percy Bysshe Shelley; his wife, Mary Shelley; and her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Exhibits include Shelley’s notebooks, Mary Shelley’s hand written draft of Frankenstein, the suicide letter of Shelley’s first wife, a necklace made of Mary Wollstonecraft’s hair and Godwin’s Political Justice.

An exhibition is all about celebrating and sharing treasures, literary treasures in this case, and telling their stories. What you often don’t hear is the story of how an exhibition is conceived and created, and the stories of the people that make it happen.

This blog tells those stories and aims to provide a snapshot of life behind the scenes of a major exhibition.