About the Exhibition

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Shelley's Ghost: The Afterlife of a Poet

Copresented by The New York Public Library and the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Shelley’s Ghost: The Afterlife of a Poet explores the literary and cultural legacy of Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife, Mary Shelley, and her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. The exhibition presents wild romances, tragic deaths, exile, revolution, and landmark literary accomplishments through rarely seen manuscripts, paintings, and relics.

Originally subtitled “Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family,” the exhibition debuted in 2010 at the Bodleian; it runs at NYPL through June 24, 2012. This edition of NYPL’s Biblion app and its corresponding website are complemented by the companion volume published by the Bodleian Library, Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family, by the Bodleian’s Stephen Hebron and NYPL’s Elizabeth C. Denlinger.

Items from the Bodleian never before shown in the United States include Mary Shelley’s original Frankenstein manuscript and Godwin’s journal, a 48-year record of his daily routine and an invaluable record of the political and cultural life of the time. Additional highlights from NYPL’s own collections include the Esdaile Notebook, containing Percy Bysshe Shelley’s youthful poetic work; the engagement ring of Harriet Westbrook (Shelley’s first wife) and her last letter, written in the month of her suicide; and the only known letter of Allegra Byron, writing to her father, Lord Byron, from the convent in which she had been placed (little Allegra would die there, at the age of five years and three months).

A minor but fascinating theme of Shelley’s Ghost is the astonishing degree to which Shelley’s legacy has been preserved, from his death in 1822, to the arrival of The Carl. H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle at NYPL in 1986, to the Bodleian’s purchase of the Abinger Papers in 2004. Between them, the collections of the two institutions — the Bodleian Library and The New York Public Library — include close to 90 percent of all known surviving Shelley manuscripts, embodying the history of literary Romanticism in Great Britain and the United States. Shelley’s Ghost offers a lens through which to see that history.

Malcolm Stewart’s copy of the best-known portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by amateur artist Amelia Curran, was executed in 1900. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries

A portrait identified as Mary Shelley and attributed to Richard Rothwell RHA, ca. 1843–5. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries

Mary Shelley's draft of Frankenstein, 1816–17 (fol. 21r); the opening of Chapter V. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries

Percy Bysshe Shelley, “To Harriet” — leaf 4 (recto) from the Esdaile Notebook, ca. 1808–15. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection

Harriet Shelley’s engagement ring, made of gold, turquoise, and diamond, in its original leather box, ca. 1813. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection

Harriet Shelley’s last letter, written to her sister and parents, as well as to Shelley, December 1816. NYPL, Pforzheimer Collection

On July 31, 1821, four-year-old Allegra writes to her father from the Italian convent where Byron had placed her: “What is my Dear Papa doing? I am so well, and so happy that I cannot but thank my ever dear Papa who brings me so much happiness and whose blessing I ask for. Your little Allegra sends her loving greetings.” Oxford, Bodleian Libraries

On July 31, 1821, four-year-old Allegra writes to her father from the Italian convent where Byron had placed her: “What is my Dear Papa doing? I am so well, and so happy that I cannot but thank my ever dear Papa who brings me so much happiness and whose blessing I ask for. Your little Allegra sends her loving greetings.” Oxford, Bodleian Libraries

 

Hours and General Information

The exhibition is open Monday, Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Tuesday–Wednesday, 10 a.m.–7:30 p.m., and Sunday, 1–5 p.m. Closed April 8 and May 26–28. For more information on hours, current and upcoming exhibitions, programs, and services at The New York Public Library, call 917.ASK.NYPL (917.275.6975) or visit www.nypl.org.

 

Order Custom Prints

Images of many of the items featured in this exhibition and in Biblion are available for purchase as decorative prints, framed or unframed, or as TIFF files for editorial or commercial use. Where applicable, Digital ID numbers are included in the captions. To order images or for additional information, visit the Library’s Photographic Services webpage. You may also visit the Library’s online Digital Gallery to view and purchase more than 740,000 images from the Library’s collections.

 

Acknowledgements

The curators would like to thank the Aronson and Pforzheimer Families, Lady Jay, and Bernard Quaritch, Ltd. At the Bodleian Library, our gratitude goes to Richard Ovenden, Sarah Thomas, Christopher Fletcher, Madeleine Slaven, Nicola O'Toole, Allison Prince, Oana Romocea, Wilma Minty. We are grateful for the contributions from The New York Public Library staff, including Charles Carter, Doucet Devin Fischer, Daniel Dibbern, Zach Holbrook, Kailen Rogers, Susan Rabbiner, Elaine Charnov, Caryn Gedell, Isabel Stauffer, Myriam De Arteni, Andrew Pastore, Allison Schlegel, Andrew Gaylard, Ken Benson, and James Murdock. Finally, we extend thanks to the designers, Barbara Suhr, Angela Voulangas, and Doug Clouse; to the author of An Illustrated Biography of Mary Shelley, Derek Marks; and to the editor, Marcie Muscat.

This exhibition is made possible by a generous gift of the Aronson and Pforzheimer families.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, and Jonathan Altman.

 

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