10 December 2003
Bodleian Library receives award towards
purchase of Abinger Papers
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.
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
Mary’s poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and so provides unique evidence
for the much disputed question: how far did Percy Shelley influence his
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
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
For further information, including pictures of Mary Shelley and of
the Frankenstein manuscript, please contact the Press Office on 01865
Selected images from the Abinger
Notes to editors:
- Pictures offered:
- Page from Mary Shelley’s draft manuscript of
Frankenstein, with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s corrections: ‘It
was on a dreary night of November that I beheld my man completed ...’.
© Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.
- Portrait miniature of Mary Shelley by Reginald Easton. ©
Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.
- Mary Shelley is the central figure of the collection, but it also
includes the accumulated papers of her family. There are many letters of her
mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97), the author of A Vindication of
the Rights of Women and a revolutionary social thinker of major importance.
It encompasses the archive of her father William Godwin (1756–1836), the
first modern anarchist philosopher, including his journal in 32 volumes
(1788–1836) and letters from correspondents such as William Hazlitt,
Thomas Holcroft and Thomas R. Malthus. There are papers of her husband, Percy
Bysshe Shelley; and their joint journal, which starts with Percy Shelley's
account of their elopement in 1814.
- The Abinger papers are the last third of the Shelley family
collection, left by Mary Shelley to her son Sir Percy Florence Shelley in 1851.
His widow, Lady Shelley, gave a major part of the collection to the Bodleian
Library in 1893–4. A second part also reached the Library in 1946 and
1961, through the gift and bequest of Sir John Shelley-Rolls. The remainder had
been bequeathed by Lady Shelley to the family of her adopted daughter, the
Scarlett family (Barons Abinger). The 8th Baron Abinger deposited these papers
on loan at the Bodleian Library from 1974 onwards. Following his death in 2002,
this is the part now offered for sale to the Library, to reunite the
- Modern writers such as William St Clair, Claire Tomalin, Miranda
Seymour, Betty T Bennett and Charles E Robinson have drawn heavily on the
deposited Abinger papers for major biographies and editions. An edition of the
Shelley journal was published in 1987, and a facsimile edition of the
Frankenstein manuscripts in 1996.
- Those wishing to support the Library in securing this important
collection should contact Richard Ovenden, Keeper of Special Collections and
Western Manuscripts. Bodleian Library, Broad Street, Oxford. OX1 3BG. Tel.
01865 277158, fax 01865 277187, email
- The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) was set up by Parliament
in 1980 with the proceeds of the National Land Fund, in the aftermath of an
enormous public outcry over the failure to save the Victorian country house,
Mentmore and its contents. The Fund was established as a memorial to those who
gave their lives for this country and it continues to operate as a fund of
'last resort', focussing on saving heritage which is under threat, whether from
sale overseas, the break-up of collections, or, in the case of land, from
unsympathetic development. The Fund currently receives £5m grant in aid
from the Government each year. For further information on the NHMF please
contact Lisa Mangan or Sam Goody on 020 7591 6032 or 6033.
Last revised 12 December 2003 by