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Exhibitions, Children and Parents: Mounseer Nongtongpaw
Mounseer Nongtongpaw, or the Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris is a lavishly illustrated children's book in verse which was first published in 1808 by William Godwin's Juvenile Library firm. Based upon a popular late eighteenth-century comic song of the same name by the actor and songwriter Charles Dibdin, the story follows the character John Bull, a symbolic representation of the common Englishman (think "John Q. Public"), on his well-meaning but dunderheaded exploits on a trip to France. Bull never bothered to learn French, and his queries in English to various French characters all elicit the same response: "Monsieur, je n'entend pas," ("Sir, I don't understand you"). Bull's own humorous misunderstanding is his belief that all of France is talking about a man named "Nongtongpaw."
Simon Jones narrates this version of the book, animated by Jonathan Blanc, a digital producer for The New York Public Library. The video was commissioned by the library's Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, which is featured in the exhibition Shelley's Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family.
The exhibition opens December 3, 2010 at Oxford University's Bodleian Library. Exploring the life, afterlife, kith and kin of the nineteenth-century radical poet (and Oxford expellee) Percy Bysshe Shelley, the exhibition integrates the unique Pforzheimer materials–-some of which have never before been on public display in the UK--with the cream of the Bodleian's own extensive collections of Shelley-related manuscripts, books, artworks and realia. Some of the exhibition's highlights include, from the Bodleian, Shelley's manuscript notebooks, and an early draft of Frankenstein, the first novel by his (arguably now more famous) second wife, Mary; among the Pforzheimer items are bookends to Shelley's life with his first wife, Harriet: her engagement ring, and her suicide letter. Shelley's Ghost will run in Oxford through March 2011; a version of the exhibition will appear at the New York Public Library in February of 2012.