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Hair Apparent

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Saving the hair of a loved one, a long-held tradition, is evident in the lives of the Romantic poets and the broader society. Mary Shelley’s mother, the feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, died shortly after giving birth to the future author of Frankenstein; as a remembrance, Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, preserved locks of his wife’s hair. Later, they were made into a necklace adorned with two lockets, each of which contained hair, with the initials “MWS” (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley) and “PBS” (Percy Bysshe Shelley).

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An Intimacy with Fellow Creators

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Anne Wagner’s friendship book is a hybrid of sorts, part commonplace book and part scrapbook. Commonplace books, which date back to the mid-17th century, generally served as single volumes of miscellaneous quotes, poetry, and other writing collected by an individual. Scrapbooks, which dominated the Victorian era, gathered such printed material as periodical clippings, paper ephemera such as tickets, calling cards, and dance cards, and photos of friends into a large-format album designed to represent a person’s history or one aspect of their life.

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A Memorial of Friendship

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Only three inches tall and five inches wide, Wagner’s Libri Amicorum, or Memorials of Friendship, contains her watercolors and collages as well as writing and artwork by friends and family members, including her niece Felicia Hemans. During the early 19th century, the popular Hemans was Lord Byron’s main rival for the bestselling poet of her generation. In 1816, when she was 14, she published her first poetry collection and 900 subscribers bought the book; one of them was Percy Bysshe Shelley. Later, after her husband abandoned her, Hemans wrote to support her five sons.

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The “Real” Story of Everyday Life

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In her novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley explored creation by chronicling how Victor Frankenstein developed new life out of disparate, “remixed” body parts. Off the page, she created an intellectual life and career for herself — and helped to establish the new literary genre of science fiction. Other women who lived in England in the early 19th century were less independent than Shelley, but many expressed their creativity in other ways. NYPL’s Pforzheimer Collection houses a number of unusual and intriguing women’s “scrapbooks” that offer another perspective.

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About

“Nymph Supported by Two Satyrs” is one of a set of four prints by Jean-Honoré Fragonard showing fictive relief sculptures with satyr families and nymphs placed in shallow natural settings. This whimsical quartet of bacchanals was executed two years after the artist returned from traveling in Italy and reflects his familiarity with classical antiquities. Although one of the etchings in the series is related to a bas-relief in the Villa Mattei, the remaining works are generally inspired but not directly based on any known ancient examples. Both the subject and the treatment of the series express the artist’s playful response to his sources. Jean-Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732–1806), “Nymph Supported by Two Satyrs,” from the series Bacchanales, or Satyrs’ Games; etchings, 1763. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection

 
 
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Proposed 1816 Chronology

 
 
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Bartholomeus Breenbergh (Dutch, 1598–1657), plate from the series Verscheyden vervallen gebouwē soo binnen als buyten Romen(Various Ruined Buildings Within and Beyond Rome); etchings, 1640. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection