Shelley’s ‘Symposium’

Mary Shelley's handwritten restorations of Percy Shelley's original words, in her printed copy of his prose works.
Mary Shelley's handwritten restorations of Percy Shelley's original words, in her printed copy of his prose works.
At the second Literary Manuscripts Masterclass, on 10 November, Michael O’Neill made the point that after Percy Shelley’s death, Mary Shelley wished to protect his reputation, promote his popularity, and preserve his words. But in the cultural and moral atmosphere of the time these were not always easily reconcilable goals.

In 1823 she transcribed Shelley’s prose works for publication, and Michael O’Neill showed the press copy (shelfmark: MS. Shelley adds. d.8, ) prepared by Mary, and marked in pencil by Leigh Hunt with suggested amendments. Both Hunt and Mary were concerned about passages in Shelley’s translation of Plato’s Symposium, and in Shelley’s own Essay on Love, describing love between men.

The photograph here shows the printed edition that did appear in 1840, but this is a copy (shelfmark: Shelley adds. e.19) interleaved with blank pages, on which, facing each printed page, Mary Shelley has restored the original words written by Shelley (such as “lover” for “friend”), preserving Shelley’s words despite the demands of publication and the prejudices of the time.

Jane Austen, ‘Volume the First’

At the first of the Literary Manuscript Masterclasses this term, on October 27, we were shown a small, mass-produced notebook, probably bought from a stationer in the mid-1780s, in which the young Jane Austen had set down a series of stories and plays. Kathryn Sutherland, professor of English literature, described the importance of this manuscript, one of three volumes of juvenilia.

Of Austen’s famous six published novels, only two chapters of Persuasion survive in manuscript form.  The three juvenile notebooks (which include’ The History of England’, on display from the BL website) and other short pieces, working drafts of two novels and a fair copy of a novella, are all we have left from the author’s own hand

Andrew Honey of the Bodleian’s Conservation Department took the class on a tour of the physical aspects of the volume, including a session of paper folding and paper tearing (using copier paper!), to demonstrate that this was a machine-made notebook, a relatively cheap mass-produced item of stationery – the equivalent, though thank goodness in 18th-century dress, of a Hello Kitty notepad. austenlecture-006_small1