Shelley’s Ghost

Percy Bysshe Shelley was but one prominent member of a celebrated literary family. His second wife, Mary, wrote one of the most lasting novels of the early 19th century, Frankenstein. Her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, were central figures in the English Enlightenment. The exhibition Shelley’s Ghost tells the remarkable — sometimes salacious — tale of this extraordinary circle of people with artifacts from The New York Public Library’s Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, in England.

Copresented by The New York Public Library and The Bodleian Library at Oxford University

Special programs hosted in conjunction with the exhibition at NYPL

Books about the Shelley family and more

Activities for middle and high school students

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One of the great English poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley had a brief, eventful, and scandalous life. He twice eloped with a 16-year-old girl, was ostracized for his radical political views, and was forced to spend his final years in exile.


The most enduring work of the Romantic period was written not by Percy Bysshe Shelley — or Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, or Coleridge — but by the teenaged Mary Shelley: Frankenstein, the archetypal parable of modern civilization.


Based on a comic song, Mounseer Nongtongpaw played on French and English national stereotypes. Mary Shelley, aged 10, likely played a small part in the book’s genesis. Watch an animated version of the story.


During the political turmoil in England precipitated by the French Revolution, Godwin made a name for himself as an innovative, radical thinker with his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, considered the first expression of modern anarchist philosophy.


Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was a radical and groundbreaking work that addressed the plight of the voiceless half of the human race passed over by the architects of the revolutions in America and France.


Lord Byron’s fame contrasted with that of Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose reputation grew only after his death. In many ways, the two were opposites, but they recognized each other’s genius and were drawn together as fellow exiles and outsiders.


Explore the history of the Shelley and Godwin families.