Victorian Passions: Stories from the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection

Special Collections Gallery, Morris Library,  Second floor
February 14-June 30, 2016

Desire and jealousy. Ambition and hatred. Friendship and love. All are explored in “Victorian Passions: Stories from the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection,” on view in the Special Collections Gallery at the Morris Library from February 14 through June 4, 2017. Highlighting a range of emotional connections—those that brought together famous lovers, families, collaborators, and friends, as well as those between the owner of an object and the object itself—the exhibition celebrates the collecting passions of Mark Samuels Lasner.

The exhibition illuminates narratives that bring to life selected manuscripts, letters, graphics, and “association copies” (books with inscriptions, annotations, and signatures). The association copies on view include: a first edition of The Importance of Being Earnest presented by Oscar Wilde to a friend who was among his staunchest supporters during his imprisonment for “gross indecency”; John Ruskin’s influential The Stones of Venice, inscribed to the great critic Thomas Carlyle; the copy of Idylls of the King given by Alfred Tennyson to Julia Margaret Cameron that launched her most significant series of staged photographs; and The Little White Bird—the first appearance in print of the ageless Peter Pan—inscribed by J. M. Barrie to his sister. Also on view is Henry James’s copy of Studies in the History of the Renaissance by Walter Pater, the book that introduced the concept of “art for art’s sake” to an English-speaking public.

A particular strength of the Lasner Collection is Pre-Raphaelite material, represented by such treasures as Christina Rossetti’s Sing-Song, inscribed to her brother William Michael, as well as the proofs of Dante Gabriel’s Poems containing the texts recovered from the exhumed coffin of his wife Elizabeth Siddall, and one of Siddall’s three surviving autograph letters. Even more remarkable is Lewis Carroll’s 1863 photograph showing the four Rossetti siblings and their mother (the only other print of the image owned by the National Portrait Gallery, London).

“Victorian Passions” offers the opportunity to see a number of highly evocative and sometimes poignant documents. An 1891 letter by Aubrey Beardsley, illustrated with a self-portrait and an original poem, is so extravagant that it becomes more a work of art than a mere communication to a friend.

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Margaret D. Stetz, Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware. Stetz organized a 2002 show in Old College Gallery, “Beyond Oscar Wilde: Portraits of Writers and Artists from the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection,” that inspired both a later exhibition at New York’s Grolier Club and her book Facing the Late Victorians: Portraits of Writers and Artists from the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection (University of Delaware Press, 2007).

The Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, housed since 2004 in the Morris Library, was donated to the University of Delaware in June 2015. It is the largest and most important gift of its kind in the university’s history.

On Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18, 2017, the University of Delaware will host a symposium, “Celebrating the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection: Rare Books and Manuscripts, Victorian Literature and Art.” Dr. Elaine Showalter, distinguished literary historian and professor emerita of English, Princeton University, will be the keynote speaker. This event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are encouraged.

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