Romance at the Rosenbach

Love is in the library: over the holidays, two visitors got engaged while on a tour of the historic house. Admittedly, some of us were in on the plan. One of our artistic staff members created a library display case with a copy of the bride-to-be’s favorite book, Jane Eyre, opened to the page with the famous line “Reader, I married him.” One of our knowledgeable guides asked her to read aloud the label, which included some text that is decidedly not part of our collection. Then the groom-to-be popped the question. Reader, she said yes.

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Chong, with permission from the pictured couple.

Love, literature, and libraries: is there anything more romantic? We’re warming up to the theme with a month of affectionate offerings, from love letters to loving couples.

On January 26, we’ll debut a brand-new Hands-On Tour: Lesbian and Gay Lives, which will explore the work and relationships of lesbian and gay literary figures in our collection. From Oscar Wilde’s tumultuous relationships with illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and poet/translator Lord Alfred Douglas, to the open secret of writer Mercedes de Acosta’s entanglements with Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, the constellations of friends and lovers around these provocateurs shed light on the lives of queer artists in their respective eras.

For four Saturdays starting on February 3, Melissa Jensen (leader of our sold-out Alice in Wonderland course a few years ago) will guide readers through the love letters and romantic poems of our collection, including works by Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Anne Bradstreet, Marianne Moore, and of course our Love Letters favorites Keats, Joyce, and DeAcosta. Not only will the Course examine different poetic forms (from the sonnet to the villanelle to the rap lyric to the prose-poem) and explore what makes the heart thump, readers will also be invited to become writers and create a few verses to send out into the world or tuck gently away. This Course offers a inspiring exercise for the aspiring poet, unparalleled access to some of our favorite books, and of course an incredible experience to share for Valentine’s Day.

“Be serious! Love is not a plaything — and again do not write unless you can do it with a crystal conscience. I would sooner die for want of you than — Yours for ever J. Keats” Page 3, Letter from John Keats to Fanny Brawne. Collection of the Rosenbach, EL3 K25 MLS ALS.

Shakespeare Free Read-Aloud Group also falls on February 3, and naturally this month’s selection will be Romeo and Juliet. This free monthly event has been booking up quickly, so register soon to save yourself a seat at the reading table!

We’ll be sorry to see the close of Frankenstein & Dracula next month, but we’re very excited about the exhibition opening February 7. Of Two Minds: Creative Couples in History and Art explores the art and achievements of romantic couples, from the powerful royalty of the 16th century to cinema stars of Old Hollywood to local artists creating together today. The couples include well-known collaborators, such as printmakers William and Catherine Blake, and lesser-known (and less legally recognized) couples such as Charles Ricketts and Charles Haslewood Shannon, who designed artwork for Oscar Wilde’s books and plays, and Violet Oakley and Edith Emerson, award-winning artists and prominent Philadelphia educators. The creations on display include objects of beauty—including illustrated books, etchings, and fine silver—and articles of knowledge, figured in maps, zoological prints, and political documents. This exhibition is not only a celebration of romantic pairs who create art and knowledge together; it’s an exploration of how collaborative couples challenge the notion of individual genius or authorship, and examines the creative process of working as a team.

On February 10, we’ll host our annual Valentine’s Day party. As with the exhibition, Love, Letters, and Libations is as much about art and craft as it is about romance: we offer crafting, snacks, and guided presentations in our rare book library as well as access to Of Two Minds. Groups and unpartnered visitors are welcome!

On February 16, enjoy a twist on our periodic Shakespeare Hands-On Tour: Shakespeare In Love focuses on romance–requited and otherwise–in the Bard’s poems and plays.

I almost wrote “Finally, on February 16”–but there’s nothing final about it. February is a timely month to celebrate romantic love, but these wonderful objects are always part of our collection and we will continue to celebrate them throughout the year. (Exhibit A: note the theme of our April Bibliococktails party.) But if you were planning to propose in our museum or library anytime soon, just know that you do so in the company of the most passionate and personal art and literature of our collection.