"With Love" displays letters of literary and local lovers

Published 02-08-2012

Lynn Hicks and Beverly Burgess, April 1946. Photo courtesy MARBL.

Take a peek into the love letters of famous literary couples – and former Emory students – in the exhibition “With Love,” on view through March 8, 2012 in the Concourse Gallery on Level 2 of the Woodruff Library.The exhibition contains letters, telegrams, poems, book inscriptions and photographs. Curator Sarah Peterson, the outreach coordinator for Emory’s chemistry department who earned her PhD in English at Emory, wrote in her curator’s statement that the materials show a range of emotion, from the passionate outpourings of Emory students to the vibrant expression of Alice Notley, the pragmatic perspective of Maud Gonne to the wild sentimentality of W.B. Yeats.

The idea of a Valentine’s Day-themed exhibition using the collections of the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) came from manuscripts archivist Elizabeth Russey Roke and associate curator of library exhibitions Julie Delliquanti. Peterson, tapped to be curator, solicited ideas for suggested couples from Roke and other MARBL staff members based on their familiarity with the collections, then she chose specific materials to create a narrative.

“I started going through various collections of famous couples, people we knew who had exchanges related to their marriage or love affairs. We have a good range from the 20th century, and some really famous people, like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and Yeats and Maud Gonne, but also some lesser-known people from the collections,” Peterson said. “We have several stand-out items, but also a lot of things that don’t get displayed quite as often.”

For example, there are several items in the cases from the collection of Jennie Tate Anderson, an Emory graduate and philanthropist who lived in Marietta after she married. “She was one of those women who, it seemed, every man who knew her fell in love with her,” Peterson said. “There was a box filled with cards and letters and telegrams from different men, pleading with her to go out with them, so that was fun to go through.”

Other standout items:

  • A handmade red and blue Valentine from Alice Notley to Ted Berrigan, with original poems and collages inside. “I thought it gave a nice sense of the collaborative spirit of their circle of poets, and the way they were influenced by visual artists, as well as the emotional connection between them,” Peterson said.
  • A flowery, over-the-top wedding card given to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath by two friends. The friends wrote a long, nonsensical poem inside, taking turns writing alternating couplets; a copy of the inside poem is enlarged and displayed behind the card. 
  • A letter from W.B. Yeats to Maud Gonne. The two were friends for more than 40 years, and Yeats was inspired by and deeply attached to Gonne, Peterson said; he proposed to her four times, but she declined each time. In the letter on display, Yeats pleads with her not to marry John MacBride (she did anyway).

The materials are drawn from 13 collections, including the Ted Hughes papers, letters to Assia Wevill, William Levi Dawson papers, Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley collection, Carol Ann Duffy papers, Ada Beatrice “Bricktop” Smith papers, Jennie Tate Anderson papers, and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library.

Posted Feb. 8, 2012