Monthly Archives: December 2010

Exhibition opening event with Andrew Motion

Alison Prince, Bodleian Libraries Web Manager

On Thursday evening last week (2 December) we had the opening event for the Shelley’s Ghost exhibition. As usual the invitations created by Bodleian Library Publishing were gorgeous and, apart from a few unfortunate people caught in the snow down south, everyone arrived at 17:30 to a beautifully lit Divinity School.

It was great to see so many people there who had contributed to the exhibition in so many ways and it felt like a good culmination to the whole project. Bodley’s Librarian, Sarah Thomas, spoke first, followed by the University Vice-chancellor, Prof. Andrew Hamilton. We were then treated to a short speech from Andrew Motion who recalled his own time at University College, Oxford (Shelley’s college) in the room next to the Shelley Memorial. He had some amusing tales of complete strangers / Shelley ‘enthusiasts’ knocking on his door and inviting themselves in on the assumption that it must have been the room Shelley occupied!

After the talks, the exhibition room itself was opened and all the guests got to go in for a sneak preview before the public opening the following day. I spent quite a lot of time staring at the computers in the corner of the room to make sure people weren’t having any trouble using the sites but did manage to tear my eyes away and spend some time looking at the exhibits too. Being surrounded by a combination literary masterpieces and very human (often incredibly moving) objects was a very special experience. It was such a treat to see everything come together on the night in this way too. Here’s to the success of Shelley’s Ghost!

Taking Shelley’s Ghost into the classroom

Alison Prince, Bodleian Libraries Web Manager

Although the Shelley’s Ghost exhibition website was primarily targeted at interested adults, we recognised early on that the material we were showing had some links to the National Curriculum and could also work for a range of curriculum enrichment activities. We started to think about how we could demonstrate the possible uses of the website in the classroom and, in this way, extend access to the materials and the outreach impact of this project even further.

We met with a few colleagues from different departments around the University in order to assess our options. Given the tight timescale we were working to and the fact that the website was primarily aimed at an older audience, we decided that the best course of action would be to create “suggested activity” sheets for teachers to demonstrate how the material might be introduced to their students, and also show the syllabus links.

We were very lucky to make contact with Cressida Ryan, the Classics Outreach Officer for the University of Oxford. Cressida had valuable experience of working with young people and an understanding of how to demonstrate the value and relevance of an idea or activity to schools. If that wasn’t enough, she also had a whole heap of knowledge on the themes and the people showcased in our exhibition.

In what seemed like an impossibly short time, we had a pack of sheets put together based on individual objects in the exhibition or more general themes. My personal favourites include “It’s all Greek to Shelley!”, “A Vindication of the Vindication” and “Editing Frankenstein“. I’m actually tempted to have a go myself…

Shelley’s Ghost – the chocolate

Shelley chocolate, you ask? What could that be?

The Shelley’s Ghost exhibition is accompanied by a full range of merchandise, including – you guessed it – chocolate. Shelley liked a bit of dessert as much as the next person, and he wrote to Maria Gisborne in 1820:

‘…We’ll have tea and toast;
Custards for supper, and an endless host
Of syllabubs and jellies and mice-pies,
And other such ladylike luxuries.’

The Shelley chocolate bars are produced by Farrah’s of Harrogate for the Bodleian exhibition.

Chocolate isn’t the only choice, however; we are also offering ‘Liberty and Free Election’ and Frankenstein merchandise, ranging from cufflinks to bags. All items are available through the Bodleian Shop.

If you’re interested in learning more about Shelley and the exhibition itself, the book Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family is available for purchase on the exhibition website. Written by Stephen Hebron and Elizabeth C. Denlinger, the book explores the lives and reputations of Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife Mary Shelley, and Mary’s parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Shelley, haunted by the past, directly sought to enhance the public’s appreciation of her husband and parents by the selective publication of relevant manuscripts; she passed along her legacy to her son and his wife. As guardian of the archive until giving part of it to the Bodleian in 1893-4, Lady Shelley too helped shape the posthumous reputations of these important writers.

The book uses the Bodleian’s collections – from manuscripts to cherished objects – to illustrate the Shelley family history. In a final chapter, Elizabeth C. Denlinger of the New York Public Library looks at the material that the family was unable to control.

On display for the first time: portrait identified as Mary Shelley

Bruce Barker-Benfield, Curatorial Associate

One of the most exciting exhibits is the portrait identified as Mary Shelley, never before seen in public and now the latest addition to the Bodleian’s Shelley collections. Some months ago its owner, Mr. Patrick Bedford, kindly agreed to lend the portrait for display; then, just a few weeks before the exhibition’s start, he generously converted the loan into an outright gift to the Bodleian.

I first saw the portrait about ten years ago, when Patrick’s wife Katy brought it to Oxford for comparison with the Bodleian’s miniature of Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton. The larger portrait, painted in the 1840s, shows a woman in middle age. The later Easton miniature, painted after Mary’s death for Sir Percy and Lady Shelley, idealizes her as she might have been in her younger days. Katy and I agreed that there were strong points of similarity between the two younger portraits (and with the one in the National Portrait Gallery), especially in the sitter’s hair-style and in the shape of her mouth.

On Wednesday, 10 November 2010, Dana Josephson and Alistair Orr of the Library’s exhibitions staff visited Patrick and Katy at their home to collect the portrait. They took the opportunity to photograph Patrick and Katy with the picture (below), just taken down from the wall where it had been hanging for many years. In an informal interview, Partick recalled that he had ‘bought it in a tea-chest full of second-hand books’ at a London sale around 1955-6. The sale had been organized for Harrods by one of the smaller London auction-houses, Debenham Storr [later Debenham Coe, finally taken over by Christie’s South Kensington]. The sale contained ‘nothing but a lot of rubbish except for this one lot’; so Patrick bought the tea-chest, because he ‘quite liked Shelley, and used to buy books and poetry’. It was only later on that he ‘pulled out the portrait’ from the chest … it had ‘nothing to remind you of anything, except that it had on the back that it was of Mary Shelley – rather good, I suppose!’

Katy explained that many of the goods being sold in this way around that time had come from the Harrods Depository, the huge warehouse near Hammersmith Bridge; during the 2nd World War, many people had used the Depository to store their possessions, which were being sold off from there in the 1950s. Patrick felt that there was some advantage for the portrait in having been left forgotten: apart from some slight damage, it is in bright and original condition, completely untouched and unrestored – ‘Lucky it was thrown in that tea-chest, because it didn’t get messed around with!’ When Patrick found it in the tea-chest, it was unframed, so an appropriate frame was found for it later.

In due course Patrick visited the National Portrait Gallery to study Richard Rothwell’s portrait of Mary Shelley there, just as Katy later came to the Bodleian to see the Easton portrait. They are delighted that, alongside the Easton miniature, the gift of the portrait to join the Bodleian’s Shelley collections will allow middle-aged Mary to be exhibited and studied ‘next door to her younger self. They belong together, don’t they?’