Keeping Shelley MSS together at the Bodleian
Dr. B. C. Barker-Benfield of the Bodleian Library at Oxford sends the following good news about keeping Mary Shelley’s manuscripts together under one roof.
December 10, 2003
The Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford has been awarded £3 million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund towards the purchase of the Abinger Papers, an archive of major literary significance which includes the surviving manuscripts of Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein. It is the largest grant ever received by the Library towards a single purchase. [cont'd]
The Abinger Papers are the most important collection of Shelley family papers remaining in private hands. The papers include the Frankenstein original draft manuscript of 1816–17, which reveals the novel in its process of conception. The draft contains many autograph corrections by Percy Bysshe Shelley, and so provides unique evidence for the much disputed question: how far did Percy Shelley influence his wife’s masterpiece?
The Abinger Papers form one third of the Shelley family papers, including letters and papers of Mary Shelley’s parents, Mary Wollstonecraft (the ground-breaking feminist writer) and William Godwin (a major intellectual figure of the period). Two thirds already belong outright to the Bodleian Library through gifts from the family. The remaining third, the Abinger section, has been deposited on loan at the Library since 1974 for the benefit of scholars, but is now offered for sale.
The Bodleian Library is launching an appeal to raise the remaining funds needed to purchase the collection. Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, said: “Thanks to the Fund’s outstandingly generous grant, and other donations already received of almost £350,000, the Library now has until March 2004 to raise the remaining £500,000 to buy the collection and so prevent its dispersal at auction. Researchers from all over the world have visited Oxford until now to study the combined collections of Shelley materials. By purchasing the Abinger collection, we aim to ensure that the Shelley family papers remain united in one location.”
Stephen Johnson, Head of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “The Abinger Papers are exactly the kind of Great British heritage that the National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up to save. Few things are more precious than the Shelleys’ personal notes and Mary’s autograph draft of Frankenstein. This grant will open up this internationally acclaimed collection for everyone to enjoy in the unique surroundings of the Bodleian Library.”