On 25 March 1811, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg were publicly expelled from University College, Oxford. On the following morning, after breakfast, they took their places on the outside of a London-bound coach. After only two terms as a first-year undergraduate, Shelley had been sent down.
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.
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 (http://shelleysghost.bodleian.ox.ac.uk) 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.