1 December 2010
The reputation of the Shelley family was shaped in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth century by the careful release of literary manuscripts into the public realm, according to a new book published by the Bodleian Library.
The book tells the story of how Mary Shelley, haunted by the past, directly sought to enhance the public’s appreciation of her husband and parents by the selective publication of relevant manuscripts and the suppression of others. It also explains how she passed on this legacy to her son, Sir Percy Florence Shelley and his wife, Jane, Lady Shelley. As guardian of the entire archive until giving part of it to the Bodleian in 1893-4, Lady Shelley too helped shape the posthumous reputations of these important writers.
Released to coincide with a major exhibition at the Bodleian Library (later at The New York Public Library), this expert yet readable book explores the lives and posthumous reputations of Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife Mary Shelley, and Mary’s parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Drawing on the Shelley archives of both the Bodleian Libraries and The New York Public Library for the first time, the book illuminates the manipulation of Shelley’s legacy by this remarkable literary dynasty.
Countless critical works have been written on key Romantic figures but this book draws on the Bodleian Libraries’ outstanding collections of letters, literary manuscripts, rare printed books and pamphlets, portraits and relics, to give us a uniquely visual and insightful account of a family blessed with genius but marred by tragedy. Just some of the compelling sources used include: Shelley’s working notebooks, a letter from Keats to Shelley, William Godwin’s diary, the last letter of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, who committed suicide after he left her for Mary Godwin, and the original handwritten draft of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with corrections by her husband.
Author, Stephen Hebron, said: ‘This is a unique opportunity to bring together treasures from the great Shelley collections in the Bodleian Libraries and The New York Public Library. The manuscripts, letters, relics and portraits in Shelley’s Ghost bear witness to the extraordinary lives and literary achievements of the Shelleys and the Godwins.’
Providing descriptions of, and quotations from, the manuscripts on which so many biographies and critical appreciations have been based, this book is distinguished by its use of exclusive archive evidence to conjure up for the reader a full and vivid conception of these figures
and their literary heritage.
‘A distilled, readable, and expert account of the poet’s life and writings…This is a beautifully illustrated work that all admirers of the Shelleys, Godwin and the Romantics more generally will wish to own.’
Michael O’Neill, Durham University
‘This magnificent book brings vividly to life the writers’ controversial literary endeavours and tragic experiences, and reveals how their descendants tried to shape their posthumous reputations.’
Nicholas Roe, University of St Andrews