Launch of first major Irish exhibition on Oscar Wilde ‘From Decadence to Despair’

The opening of the first major Irish exhibition on Oscar Wilde was marked by a public interview with actor and writer Rupert Everett on Thursday October 12, 2017 in Trinity College Dublin. The highly personal exhibition in Trinity’s Long Room, featuring letters, photographs, theatre programmes, books and memorabilia, maps out the Anglo-Irish playwright’s meteoric rise to fame and also his dramatic fall from grace.

Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversation, Oscar Wilde is one of the best known Irish personalities of the 19th century and was one of the great writers of the Victorian era. Besides literary accomplishments, Wilde became a figure of some notoriety for his lifestyle and involvement in the ‘art for art’s sake’ aesthetic movement as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.

Pictured at the launch actor Rupert Everett, curator Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin and Senator David Norris
Pictured at the launch actor Rupert Everett, curator Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin and Senator David Norris

Now Trinity College Dublin is celebrating one of its most famous alumni with an exhibition entitled ‘From Decadence to Despair’ in Trinity’s Long Room and an accompanying online exhibition. The exhibition opening takes place four days before Oscar Wilde’s birthday on October 16th. To mark the occasion a public interview with actor, writer and long-time Oscar Wilde fan Rupert Everett was conducted by Carlo Gébler, Adjunct Professor in Creative Writing at Trinity’s Oscar Wilde Centre for Irish Writing this evening in the Robert Emmet Theatre, Arts Building, Trinity at 6.30pm.

The 30 items in the ‘From Decadence to Despair’ exhibition are drawn from the Library’s  Oscar Wilde Collection, which is the only Wilde archive held in a public institution in Ireland. It is unique in its focus on the playwright’s downfall and exile years. The collection was acquired by Trinity in 2011 from Julia Rosenthal, a rare book dealer and life-long collector of Wildeana based in London.

Commenting on the significance of the exhibition Librarian and College Archivist, Helen Shenton said: “The Oscar Wilde Collection held here at the Library of Trinity College Dublin comprises items of great symbolic significance for Wilde’s biography. All the great Wilde biographers have made extensive use of the archive.  Now, with these new exhibitions, we are delighted to be able to bring this important collection to national and international audiences.”

Curator of the exhibition and Assistant Librarian at Trinity, Caoimhe Ní Ghormáin added: “Oscar Wilde’s life and work continues to captivate academics and the general public. Through this exhibition we hope to celebrate the extraordinary legacy of Oscar Wilde and to shed further light on his remarkable journey from his student days in Trinity right through to his downfall and the sad circumstances in which he found himself during those final years in exile.”

Preserving the faces and history of the Dublin University Boat Club Collection

Last year, the Preservation & Conservation department in conjunction with DRIS (Digital Resources & Imaging Service) of Trinity College Library was asked to survey a collection of the Dublin University Boat Club’s photographs and other documents that hung in the club’s boathouse in Islandbridge on the river Liffey.  The collection – which spans the period 1841 to the present – includes 255 framed photographs of winning crews and notable club members, a racing programme, and 70 winnings sheets.

The collection represents a unique record of rowing in College since the middle of the nineteenth century, providing inspiration to countless Trinity rowers over the years.  The Boat Club has been aware of the priceless nature of the collection and there has long been a desire to maintain and preserve it for future generations.

The winning history of the club goes back to about 150 years ago when Trinity competed for the first time at the Henley Royal Regatta, and won the Visitors’ Challenge Cup with Charles Burton Barrington (on the left in the fig. 1), who contributed to the distinguished reputation that the club has held since.

Fig. 1 Dublin University Boat Club crew, 1870.

Interestingly, for most of its history the Trinity Boat Club – like the rest of the university – was a purely male enterprise.  The collection is a testimony to that fact, and records only one female rower, K.E. Rooney (1998).

Moreover, this collection represents a fascinating history of photographic portraiture.  For instance, you will rarely find a protagonist looking at the lens of the camera in the earliest photographs (fig. 1).  This would change over time and eventually subjects even began to smile.  The age of selfies was still very far away however!

The background and the way people would pose in front of the camera also evolved.  In the earliest photographs, the influence of art is apparent, with subjects posing in front of a beautiful plant wall, or next to elegant furniture in a luxurious interior (fig. 2).  Nowadays, crews are photographed in a simple and more straight-forward way (fig. 3).

Fig. 2 Two Boat Club members, c. 1870

 

Fig. 3 Crew photographs, 2008

Just as the subject changes his pose through the ages, so too do the photographic techniques – from positives on paper to digital photography.  The crews were photographed almost every year since 1863, so these photographs offer a unique record of the evolution of photographic techniques.

Fig. 4 Hand-coloured photograph, 1872

Before Photoshop or any other retouching computer programs, people were using collage or adding colour by hand on the photographs themselves.  Going through the collection, we found that some heads were replaced by others, or that blue and black colours were added on the photograph itself to give further details to the rowers’ outfits (fig. 4).

These images and documents hung on the walls of the Boat House at Islandbridge for several decades.  Unfortunately, years of display and fluctuating environmental conditions have had a detrimental effect on the photographs, making the need for conservation more urgent with each passing year.

Fig. 5 The condition of the whole collection when it came at the Conservation Department

The documents were housed in frames that had become quite acidic and did not effectively protect the document from the dust (fig. 5).  The glass in some of the frames was broken, making consultation dangerous.  Documents suffered from tears, losses, scratches, mould stains and cockling. Silver mirroring (when a silver metallic haze appears over the dark areas of some gelatine silver photographs) and fading was also apparent in the photographic material.  Finally, most of the mountings were held together with a great deal of adhesive tape, which is notorious for causing damage.

The project started in July 2016 thanks to the financial support given by the TCD Association & Trust.  The priority was to house the photographs and winning lists in suitable storage units.  It was decided that the whole collection would stay in the College Archives and the Boat Club would receive surrogates framed in the original frames to be replaced on the walls of the Boat House at Islandbridge.

The original photographs and other documents were catalogued and each was assigned a unique archival reference.

Before digitisation, a long process of un-framing and mount removal, where necessary, began. Following that, dry-cleaning of the documents commenced.  Dry-cleaning is essential in conservation not only for aesthetic reasons but also because dust and dirt can be damaging to paper and photographs in different ways.  It can be abrasive, acidic, hygroscopic or degradative.  Soft Japanese brushes were used to remove dust, and Smoke Sponges were used to remove the more ingrained dirt on the verso.  A crepe rubber was used as well to remove synthetic glue from modern tapes.

Fig. 6 Photographs housed in mylar sleeves in acid-free box

Fig. 7 Original photographs boxes and ready to be moved to storage

Space and time were two main concerns. Because storage is an issue with regard to archives, we wanted the collection to take up as little space as possible.  We removed damaged and detached mountings that did not show any information.  Also, since there were more than 300 documents to house, we undertook repairs on the documents only when it was absolutely necessary for the preservation of the items.  Each item was housed in Mylar® sleeves and archival boxes (figs. 6 & 7).  The final stage of the process was the transfer of the original collection to the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library. There is takes its place among the many other student society and sports club records which may be consulted in the reading room there.

All the documents were digitally imaged and will be soon accessible on DRIS catalogue for all those wishing to dive in the history of the Boat Club, or indeed those interested in the history of photography.

We wish to gratefully acknowledge the financial support that has been given by the TCD Association and Trust.

Many thanks to Mark Pattison from the Boat Club for his knowledge and availability and to Lucilla Ronai, former conservation intern who had the courage and motivation to start the project.

Erica D’Alessandro

Heritage Council Intern, Glucksman Conservation Department, the Library of Trinity College Dublin

What lies behind ‘the Ot’: Treasures of the Otway-Ruthven Collection, MS 11093

Blog post by Shauna Donnelly, Summer Intern in the Manuscripts and Archives Department, Trinity College Library Dublin

Professor Jocelyn Annette Otway-Ruthven, fondly referred to as ‘the Ot’ by those who knew her, was a pioneering female academic during the mid-twentieth century in Trinity College Dublin. Her achievements during her time at Trinity marked milestones not just in her own career, but also in the progress and history of women in Trinity, and the increasing possibilities for them in College. The first women students were admitted to College in 1904, with Constantia Maxwell becoming the first woman academic appointed to staff in 1909. Maxwell became the first female Lecky Professor of History in 1945, with the Ot succeeding her in the same role in 1951. Although Maxwell’s role in College’s acceptance of women academics was pivotal, she was not as groundbreaking as ‘the Ot’, as she was known to be shy, quiet, and conservative, accepting the discrimination and limitations placed upon her by her male counterparts.

‘The Ot’, however, was more strategic and ambitious in seeking gender equality in College. She began her teaching career in 1938, holding down year to year appointments until 1951 when she became Lecky Professor of History. 1968 became the high point of her career when she was elected the first female Fellow of Trinity College Dublin, which was a high honour. She also published her so-called magnum opus, A History of Medieval Ireland, the same year. Through means of institutional loyalty, proving her credibility as a top class academic, and gaining the favour of Provost A.J. McConnell, the Ot succeeded further in becoming the Dean of Arts and Humanities in 1969, breaking more ground in being the first woman appointed to that position. Her prolific career at Trinity continued until her retirement in 1981, spanning an impressively dedicated 43 years, during which she contributed to the life of College in far more than just the academic realm. She nurtured the talents of many of her female students, and through establishing connections and gaining the favour of influential male colleagues, she succeeded in changing existing attitudes towards women in Trinity. As a result, women became far more than second class citizens, instead being seen as fully integrated members of the College community and engaging in all aspects of life at Trinity. ‘The Ot’ truly played her part in the “quiet revolution” executed by women in Trinity excellently to yield a lasting impact and legacy.

 

 

 

IMG_5571 (1)

The harp of Castle Otway: a family treasure

 

MS 11093 is a collection of papers relating to the Otway-Ruthven family, from which ‘the Ot’ descended. It offers researchers a unique glimpse into the lineage of one of Trinity’s most pivotal female figures, containing a variety of materials spanning over three centuries from c1642–1974. A preliminary list of the collection’s contents was completed in 1999, but since then the materials have been largely untouched. I have had the pleasure of surveying and cataloguing the full extent of its rich contents 8 years later, unearthing many insights into the rich heritage of the Otway-Ruthven clan. The volume of materials, and their meticulous comprehensiveness, illustrates the Ot’s interest in the preservation of her own family’s history. It is clear that her abilities as a historian were lent to her beginning the collection, as she kept a log book of family documents (which is included within the catalogue’s personal section).

The collection comprises largely of miscellaneous estate papers, giving us insight into the large scale of the Castle Otway estate and its operations. Legal, rental, and financial documentation appears alongside maps and correspondence, while the collection also contains many personal items and memorabilia from different members of the extended family. Through these materials we gain insight into the life, times, and relations of the influential clan, and can decipher how life was at Castle Otway before it was burned in 1922. The Castle Otway harp is a particularly beautiful component of College’s acquisitions from the Otway clan. It is probably the largest and most ornate piece of memorabilia, with a rich and much debated history. Personal items relating to the Casement family also appear in the collection, illustrating the Ot’s connections to and relationship with a famously rebellious cousin, 1916 revolutionary Roger Casement. The diversity and comprehensiveness of MS 11093 provides a full picture of the Ot’s ancestry, and allow us to appreciate not just who she was, but where she came from.

The Ot

‘The Ot’: Professor Antonette Jocelyn Otway-Ruthven

 

MS 11093 will soon be available for viewing by Readers of the Manuscripts and Archives Department.

Biographical notes for this post were taken from Salters Sterling’s ‘Memoirs of the Ot’ (2002), published in A Danger to the Men? A History of Women in Trinity College Dublin 1904–2004, Susan M. Parkes, FTCD (ed.), (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2004) pp. 263–267.

 

Neglected Old English in Trinity College Dublin

Among European countries, Ireland and England hold the accolade of having explored the possibilities of writing in their vernacular languages earliest and most extensively. Over three million words of Old English, the major language of England from around 500 to around 1100, survive, largely in manuscripts now in English libraries. But Trinity has one medieval manuscript containing Old English, TCD MS 174, a codex in Latin but which appears to pronounce its origins in the vernacular.

TCD MS 174, folio ir: ‘of searbyrig ic eom’: “from Salisbury I am”.

It also has a number of copies made by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century antiquarians of Old English texts, most famously William Lambard’s 1563 transcript of a now-all-but-conflagrated copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

TCD MS 631, folio 11r: King Alfred’s accession in annal 871 is marked with a three-line-high capital, presumably copied by Lambard from the manuscript he was transcribing.

While three million words may sound like a lot, it is still insufficient to answer some major questions about the Old English language and its literature, and the discovery of new texts in the language, even if only a few words in length, is a cause of interest. It was therefore with some excitement that examining a twelfth-century Trinity manuscript in October last year with Immo Warntjes, Ussher Assistant Professor in Early Medieval Irish History, I spotted some annotations in the margins of several leaves that appeared to be in English.

TCD MS 492, fol. 4r: the beginning of the first book of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with English annotations in the outer margin.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r: the beginning of the first book of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with English annotations in the outer margin.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r (detail of annotation from outer margin, enlarged and rotated): ‘hronas’, “whales”.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r (detail of annotation from outer margin, enlarged and rotated): ‘hronas’, “whales”.

Further research revealed that if not entirely unknown, these annotations – seven in all – were seriously neglected. This prompted a full investigation, the results of which have just been published in the German journal, Anglia: Zeitschrift fur Englische Philologie.

The first challenge was to decipher the annotations. Transcribing Old English is not difficult, whatever master’s palaeography students may tell you. However, these annotations presented several idiosyncratic challenges: first, the vast majority of them were written in the outer margin of the leaves, perpendicular to the text block, a position where readers’ fingers are liable to have rubbed any writing; second, the script was extremely small, almost wilfully inconspicuous. Thus one of the annotations in the margin of fol. 4r had formerly been transcribed as ‘seolas scaelie’, just about recognisable as Old English, but not intelligible as such because no word ‘scaelie’ exists; in good light and with patience, I was able to recognise the word intended as ‘weolocscælle’.

TCD MS 492, folio 4r (detail of annotation from outer margin, enlarged and rotated): ‘<w>eolocscælle’, “whelks”.

The next challenge was to explain what the annotator was up to. Fortunately, I was well positioned for this task, having written my PhD on the ways in which medieval readers used manuscripts. One thing that immediately struck me was that the spelling of the annotations was at odds with their twelfth-century date. This suggested it would be worth checking if they had been taken from an earlier work. Investigation revealed this was indeed the case, with all having come from an earlier translation of the Latin work being annotated, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. The annotation of a Latin work with equivalent phrases from an English translation might suggest a student cribbing his way to the understanding of the original Latin (my copy of Virgil’s Æneid still has my annotations from when I first encountered it as a sixteen-year old schoolboy). But closer consideration of two of the annotations suggested the actual situation was more complex.

TCD MS 492, folio 8v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘munuc’, “monk”.

TCD MS 492, folio 8v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘munuc’, “monk”.

Both of these annotations concern Bede’s account of St Alban, the man he celebrated as the first English martyr and the man who gave his name to the monastery and later town of St Albans in Hertfordshire. Both annotations give details found in the English translation not present in the Latin: that a visitor Alban received was a monk and that the place of Alban’s martyrdom was half a mile from the town wall. They suggest that the annotator was not a student struggling to understand Bede’s Latin, but a scholar making a detailed comparison of the Latin text and its Old English translation and, perhaps surprisingly, according them equal weight.

TCD MS 492, folio 9v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘half mile <em>a muro</em>’, “half a mile <em>from the wall</em>”.

TCD MS 492, folio 9v (detail, enlarged and rotated): ‘half mile a muro’, “half a mile from the wall”.

The annotations in TCD MS 492 are therefore a witness to the authority that the vernacular held in England before 1200, an authority paralleled in the Europe of this time only in Ireland. The publication of these neglected seventeen words of Old English adds just a little to the more than three million words of Old English already known to have survived, and it doubles the number of codices known to contain Old English in Trinity, but more importantly it tells us that Old English works continued to be read and studied well into the twelfth century, just as we still enjoy the novels of Dickens and Trollope today.

Mark Faulkner
Ussher Assistant Professor in Medieval Literature

Commemorating Jonathan Swift

Marble bust of Swift by L-F Roubiliac in the Long Room (TCD Art Collection)

To celebrate the sesquarcentennial – that’s 350th – anniversary of Jonathan Swift’s birth Trinity College has organised something completely different: a collaborative online exhibition reuniting original Swift artifacts from all over Dublin.

Trinity College Dublin has a very important place in the history of satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). Not only was he a student here but the first record of his existence known to scholarship is his name inscribed in the student admissions book and the record of one of his examinations in the College. Swift’s time as a student in Trinity was not his finest moment. In his memoir he complains that he was awarded his degree by special grace (that is, he almost didn’t graduate) even though he claims to have followed all the rules. The archives don’t lie, however, and the future Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral appears to have been fined several times for misdemeanours such as insolence and ‘haunting the town’.

Trinity College in the late seventeenth century. From the National Library of Ireland (NLI MS 392)

Trinity is marking the 350th anniversary of Jonathan Swift’s birth this year with a number of activities. There is an exhibition from the Library’s world-renowned collection of Swift-related books and manuscripts in the Long room. This collection was developed partly through gift and bequest and the exhibition showcases particularly the generous bequest of American Swiftian A. C. Elias. Also planned is an international conference on 7-9 June at which experts will speak on themes such as Swift and politics, travel, family and friends.

To re-imagine Swift’s Dublin, the Library has embarked on a new departure. For the first time, a collaborative online exhibition has been curated which brings together Swift-related artifacts which still survive in places outside the College: these include St Patrick’s Cathedral, where Swift was Dean; Marsh’s Library, much frequented by Swift; and St Patrick’s Hospital which was built as a result of the bequest left by Swift for a hospital to care for individuals with mental illness. Included in the exhibition are a snuff box (from the Cathedral), a wine bottle (from the National Museum), and the writing desk upon which Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels (from St Patrick’s Mental Health Services).

An nineteenth-century illustrated edition of Gulliver’s Travels for children (Dublin City Library)

Commenting on the continued relevance of Swift in the 21st century writing, Dr Aileen Douglas of the School of English remarked that ‘for a long time eighteenth-century Protestant writers like Swift were seen as not Irish, but in works like the Drapier’s Letters Swift can be seen beginning to speak for the Irish nation.’ A great part of Swift’s legacy lies in the work Gulliver’s Travels, which has never been out of print since it was published in 1726 and which belongs, not just to Irish literature, but to world literature. Dr Douglas remarks that ‘its relevance only increases over time. Gulliver is always on a voyage, never quite belongs and is in the end totally alienated. In today’s world of movement and dispossession there is a great deal of resonance there.’

The Library thanks all its collaborators in the making of this exhibition.

Dr Jane Maxwell