History’s Most Distinguished Literary Hair

In preparation for Celebrating 100 Years, the New York Public Library’s centennial exhibition, the curators at the library have been handling some unusual bounty in the stacks: a lock of Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley’s hair, for example. Macabre as it seems, bestowing locks of hair on friends, family members, and lovers was common practice in the 19th century, and locks of hair from many renowned writers accompany the NYPL’s vast collections of manuscripts, notebooks, and letters.

This prompted us to seek out other literary DNA at the NYPL. With guidance from Elizabeth C. Denlinger of the library’s Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley & His Circle, Isaac Gewirtz, curator of the library’s Berg Collection of English and American Literature, and Jennifer Lam, we present you with the following gallery. For the next few months, you can see Mary Shelley’s hair, along with other artifacts from the NYPL’s collection, in person. For now, get ready for a rather intimate look at some famous literary hair. And if you’re still harboring an interest in famous authors’ hair, check out this piece on male writers’ unruly hairstyles.

Mary Shelley

Lock of Mary Shelley’s hair. From the Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle at the New York Public Library. Photo credit: Elena Parker

Shelley snipped the hefty auburn lock herself to be dispatched in 1815 with a letter to friend Thomas J. Hogg.