A rediscovered painting of Mary Shelley, never shown before, is just one of the treasures currently on display at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England. The small oil painting, dated to 1843 and attributed to Richard Rothwell, surfaced in 1955 and has only recently been recognized for what it is. Another, later portrait of Mary by the same artist is quite famous.
Shelley’s Ghost is an extraordinary exhibition devoted to Mary Shelley, her parents William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. On show are notebooks, letters, art and artifacts, over 100 pieces in all, including the original manuscript of Frankenstein and precious personal objects such as Mary’s delicate dressing case and Percy’s carefully preserved baby rattle.
One particularly poignant object is an elaborate gilt display containing locks of Mary, Percy and their child Florence’s hair, along with one of Percy’s quill pens.
There was a time when a snippet of hair was a prized memento and Mary no doubt cherished these souvenirs of her beloved Percy. One of his tresses is dated 1822, the year he died. Mary was apparently generous with her own clipped curls. Mary Shelley expert and collector Daniel Raymond of Montreal reports that another lock of Mary’s hair, originally sent to an admirer, is kept at the New York Public Library.
Barring a trip to England, Shelley’s Ghost can be experienced through its dedicated and amazingly complete website, a stunning achievement in itself. All the exhibits are pictured and heavily annotated, and you can even read Frankenstein in manuscript form. There are numerous supplements including podcast readings of letters and poetry, contemporary music, and a map of a walking tour of Shelley in Oxford. There's also a fascinating video introduction by the show's curator, Stephen Hebron. The site’s layout is beautifully realized, navigation is easy and perfectly intuitive. One hopes the site, a significant resource, will stay up well after the show closes, come March 27.
Click through to the Shelley’s Ghost website and explore the lives and works of a remarkable literary family.
Shelley's Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family is the exhibition's companion book, by Stephen Hebron and Elizabeth C. Denlinger.
Portraits of Mary Shelley