Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Letters to “Bright Star” on Exhibit at Houghton

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MS Keats 1.71, a February 1820 letter from John Keats to Fanny Brawne (gift of Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., 1952). The letter is included in a new exhibition related to Keats'
affair with Brawne.

November 10, 2009 – It is unlikely that many students, faculty members or researchers visit Houghton Library, Harvard’s primary repository for rare books and manuscripts in search of material relating to contemporary films. A new exhibition at the library, however, is sure to be of interest to fans of the film “Bright Star,” the big screen version of the love affair between then-unknown poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne.

The exhibition, entitled “John Keats and Fanny Brawne” focuses on the pair’s secret, two-year romance, and includes several of the letters Keats sent to Brawne. Other items in the exhibition include a silhouette of Brawne and a lock of her hair, a catalog from a 1880s-era auction of Keats’ letters and a sonnet written by Oscar Wilde on the auction.

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For those seduced by the romance of the new film, however, the centerpiece of the exhibition will be the two Keats letters. Among the largest collections of Keats world-wide, Houghton’s holdings include 13 of the 39 extant letters he sent to Brawne.

“These are very nice letters – you can see in one, he addresses her as ‘My dearest girl,’” said Houghton Assistant Curator Heather Cole, who organized the exhibition. “They’re very intimate. I’m hoping people will see the film and want to see more of the objects that were associated with the characters in the film.”

Though it will run through April 2010, the new exhibition is only open on Fridays as part of the public tour of the library. Reservations are not necessary for the tours, which are conducted every Friday at 2 p.m.