Juliet Drouet Letters in Special Collections

Special Collections holds over 440 letters written by Juliette Drouet (1806-1883) to Victor Hugo (1802-1885). This is the largest collection of her letters outside France, and is of international significance. Drouet was the long term mistress of Hugo, and wrote him at least one letter per day during their 50 year relationship. Her correspondence is voluminous, amounting to a staggering 22,000 letters.

The collection was originally acquired in the 1920s, but was not fully catalogued until 2016, when we were contacted by Josselin Blieck, a French archivist. Josselin made us aware of a project led by Prof. Florence Naugritte at the University of Rouen to create a collected digital edition of Drouet’s letters. The letters in Leeds would be able to fill in substantial gaps in this project.

Will Josselin’s help, Special Collections was able to fully catalogue and digitise the Leeds collection. These letters will now be able to can form part of the international collected digital edition of Drouet’s work. We were also able to create an online exhibition exploring some of the major themes of the letters, from medical history to experimental literary forms. We hope that this will encourage a range of research interests in the material at Leeds.

By listing and digitising the Drouet collection of letters, Special Collections have been able to support international scholarship, and hope to encourage further research on the collection.

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Byron’s dramatic poem ‘Manfred’

This post is by Joe Whelan, a Leeds student, who spent 12 weeks working on the Freemantle Collection under the University’s Undergraduate Research and Leadership Scholarship Scheme.

Researchers have recently been exploring and cataloguing the music manuscripts of the author and organist W. T. Freemantle (1849-1931) with the aim of making them more accessible.  Many of the manuscripts are part of Lord Brotherton’s original collection and were acquired from the sale of Freemantle’s library.

During the research a setting of Byron’s ‘Manfred: a dramatic poem‘ by the English composer E. J. Loder has been rediscovered.   Excitingly 2016 is the bicentenary of Byron’s writing of the play.  This has provided the impetus for an event at the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Lord Byron’s Manfred and its Musical Settings’.  The event will explore the play and the music it inspired including works by Robert Schumann and Tchaikovsky.  Excerpts from Loder’s setting will be performed by Soloists and by the Chamber Choir, The Clothworkers Consort of Leeds.

The hero of Byron’s play, Manfred, is a nobleman racked by a mysterious guilt linked to the death of his beloved Astarte. He summons seven spirits from whom he requests forgetfulness.  The supernatural elements in ‘Manfred’ reflect the popularity of the ghost story in England in the early 19th century.

Loder’s setting is now easily accessible to future researchers as Leeds student, Joe Whelan, has catalogued many of the uncatalogued Freemantle manuscripts.  His detailed work has been uploaded to the Special Collections online catalogue.  This includes some of his research into the provenance of the archives

Currently, Joe is studying in the School of Music for a BA in Music.  His work on Freemantle was part of a placement funded by the University’s Undergraduate Research & Leadership Scholarship scheme (UGRLS).  Joe will soon be promoting the collection further through a fascinating online exhibition.

Chevalier d’Eon, revealed!

This post is by Josselin Blieck the French archivist who worked on a recent cataloguing project about the Chevalier d’Eon.

Special Collections holds significant collections of 18th, 19th and 20th century manuscripts in French, which can sometimes be overlooked. Recent work improving our catalogues has enabled us to make some of the highlights of these collections available.

The Chevalier D’Eon collection consists of the papers of Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont, a French diplomat, spy, freemason and soldier who fought in the Seven Years’ War. D’Eon is now chiefly remembered as a transsexual. In 1775, after having lived as a man for 49 years, d’Eon was recognised as a woman by the French Government. D’Eon was allowed to keep the title of Chevalière and decorations – becoming the first woman to receive such honours in French history.

A recent cataloguing project has enabled us to re-catalogue the collection and create detailed item level descriptions which are now available to explore online. Describing the items in this collection was no small task, especially where things aren’t always what they seem.

D’Eon was a master spy who was able to use outstanding skills of persuasion to manipulate public opinion and to earn money by duping the French Government and creditors. As a result, this archive is especially difficult to handle. It contains many forged reports, letters, bills, accounting sheets, etc. D’Eon even produced fake authenticity letters to certify that forged documents were genuine.

These documents are truly fascinating. They show how he brilliantly manipulated public opinion and the French government; I think the forged dialogues with the Prince de Conti or the letters of Beaumarchais are indeed the best parts of the collection.