I’ve been away in the USA for just over three weeks on a research trip. As this trip was part-funded by the British Association for Romantic Studies (BARS), I’ve written a short report on how the trip has contributed to my doctoral research, which will appear on the BARS website.
I’m also reposting the report here: it includes details of the manuscripts I went to see, and as this is my personal blog I’ve also included some photographs of my trip (unfortunately images of manuscripts can’t be posted online due to copyright, so I’ve used my pictures of the beautiful cities I went to and the libraries I worked in).
Report for BARS Stephen Copley Postgraduate Research Award 2015
In October/November 2015 I travelled to the USA to study the manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley housed in American libraries on the East Coast. The BARS Stephen Copley Postgraduate Research Award and the University of York’s AHRC Research Travel Support Grant funded my research trip. My work as a doctoral candidate looks to define the collaborative literary relationship of Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley at different stages throughout their lives. My work on these American manuscripts particularly focuses on the Shelleys’ method of working together after the publication of Frankenstein (1818) and prior to Percy Shelley’s untimely death (1822). This working style and collaboration is more reciprocal than has hitherto been perceived.
My first stop was Washington, D.C. and the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world. My work here was based in the Madison building where the manuscript reading room is, although I was also able to use the especially ornate main reading room in the Jefferson building to check on a book or reference, too. After arriving late on a Monday evening, by Tuesday morning I had in my hands MSS. 13,290. This is a small bound notebook used by Percy and Mary Shelley from 1814-1818. Both Shelleys used this notebook intermittently and no facsimile of the manuscript exists: you have to travel to Washington to see it. Its 68 pages include several works authored by Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley. The notebook indicates how the Shelleys’ creative compositions reflect a continual intellectual dialogue: for example, Percy’s review of Mary’s Frankenstein shows Percy actively commenting on his wife’s novel (a novel he also collaborated on). Percy describes the novel as ‘one of the most original and complete productions of the age’. The notebook also contains Mary’s translation of Apuleius’s Cupid and Psyche. Percy Shelley had communicated his enthusiasm for this particular story to Mary; in the Shelleys’ journals and letters we can see that Percy was reading Apuleius in May 1817 (‘I never read a fictitious composition of such miraculous interest & beauty’), and Mary then began transcribing the tale in October/November of the same year. A study of this notebook as a single document can reveal much about the closeness by which the Shelleys worked in these years. The notebook is small, heavily worn (implying that it was used during travelling), and features only one blank page. Percy Shelley’s Frankenstein review does not appear chronologically in the notebook. Such details of the physicality of the manuscripts indicate that the Shelleys would have picked up spare bits of paper here and there where they could, and the notebook drafts include alterations and deleted words. The notebook is somewhat neglected considering it does not have a facsimile. Only the first 33 pages are numbered, and it has not been written about as a particular ‘object’. MSS. 13,290 was first owned by the 16-year-old Mary Shelley and then utilised during the Frankenstein composition period, which was a very fruitful period of writing for both Shelleys.
Also in the Library of Congress is the original manuscript copy of Mary Shelley’s Press-Copy Transcript of The Mask of Anarchy (MMC 1399). Mary’s work as an amanuensis for her husband is well known, and this manuscript shows Percy Shelley’s characteristic additions and corrections to his wife’s transcript. Such documents are a fantastic indicator of the Shelleys’ collaboration at this time. Viewing the original document allowed me to see how carefully the Shelleys prepared these transcripts for press; the tiny, neat words by Mary with corrections by Percy offers a comparison of the Shelleys’ handwriting at the same point in time. Mary’s hand was often far neater than Percy’s, and this is one reason why she often copied his works for the press. The Mask of Anarchy manuscript also shows Mary’s interest in PBS’s political writings (something critics sometimes downplay).
Whilst in Washington I attended a poetry reading at the Arts Club by Grace Cavalieri and Sue Ellen Thompson. It just so happened one of the collections Grace was reading from was ‘What I Would do for Love: Poems in the Voice of Mary Wollstonecraft’. I asked her about Mary Shelley as daughter of the venerable woman of her ventriloquist-style poetry, and how important she thought human relationships and interactions were as a subject for poetry itself. ‘I love women who tell the truth’ she said of her inspirations. She kindly invited me to the recording of her radio show ‘The Poet and the Poem’ the next morning at the Library of Congress.
After 10 days in Washington, I got on a train towards New York City. I was now heading north to view the even more abundant Shelley collections in the New York Public Library and the Morgan Library. However, on my way I also made a stop off in Wilmington, Delaware. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours with the renowned Shelley scholar Prof. Charles E. Robinson, whose extensive work on the manuscript of Frankenstein has been invaluable in developing my interest in the Shelleys and then inspiring me to take on this topic in my thesis. Prof. Robinson was enthusiastic about the Shelleys and encouraging about my work; I am indebted to him for the usefulness of this discussion. This meeting demonstrated to me the benefits of being able to meet and discuss intellectual ideas in person (especially those which are still developing, such as my thesis!). Robinson even gave me pedagogical advice: teaching Percy Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’ will never be the same again.
In the New York Public Library I spent my time studying manuscripts that are not yet available in facsimile, including letters by Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley.
I also looked Mary’s work as an editor, making changes to Percy’s Poetical Works (1839), the details of which I am putting into an article. Liz Denlinger, curator of the Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and his Circle, was very helpful. Her excellent knowledge and advice led me to a new acquisition at the collection: Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire (1810), Percy Shelley’s first book of verse. It opens with the idiosyncratic lines:
Here I sit with my paper, my pen and my ink,
First of this thing, and that thing, and t’other thing think;
Then my thoughts come so pell-mell all into my mind,
That the sense or the subject I never can find
As Liz Delinger’s blog explains, this volume of poetry is ‘also evidence of [Percy Shelley’s] inclination to literary collaboration’; he worked on the book with his sister.
In the Morgan Library I studied the manuscripts of Percy Shelley’s The Aziola, The Indian Serenade, and Julian and Maddalo. In particular, Julian and Maddalo is a striking notebook; the 617 lines of the poem are neatly transcribed onto 16 tiny leaves that are only 4 inches long by 2.5 inches wide (which goes to show that Percy could write neatly when he wanted to!). I also viewed Mary Shelley’s draft of her second novel, Valperga. I studied the Shelleys’ handwriting, the different ways in which they worked together, and questioned the depth of their influence on each other’s work post-Frankenstein. My studies in the USA have been vital with regards to my PhD project, which, as a third-year student is taking its final shape. The trip was motivating, exciting and inspiring.
Photographs are the author’s own.