Here LJMU English PhD Joseph Thorne talks about his involvement with Liverpool Central Library’s current exhibition:
When I first applied to LJMU (back in the distant past of 2014), I was promised involvement with an exhibition on the late-Victorian Liverpool poet, Richard Le Gallienne. I’d come across Le Gallienne in my wider reading, but he was always a very marginal character. He was one of Oscar Wilde’s hangers on and then, following the Wilde trials, broke from Decadence and faded into well-deserved obscurity. And that was all there was to it. Or so I thought. When I started working my way through the extensive Le Gallienne collection, housed in the Liverpool Central Library, I was forced to re-evaluate Richard Le Gallienne.
For those of you who know little about Le Gallienne, a brief biography is a good starting point. He was born as Richard Gallienne in 1866 to John and Jane Gallienne. His father, who worked at the Birkenhead Brewery, hoped that his son would follow him into the world of business. Richard, however, had other ideas. After seeing Oscar Wilde lecture at the Claughton Music Hall in 1888 and after failing his clerkship exams, he moved to London where he befriended W. B. Yeats and Ernest Rhys, and joined the Rhymers Club (a group of proto-Decadent writers who met in the Cheshire Cheese pub). It was at this point that the young Richard Gallienne decided to rebrand himself—adding the Frenchified prefix ‘Le’ to his surname. During his time in London, he became a publisher’s reader for the Bodley Head, made friends with Oscar Wilde, and regularly contributed to the scandalous Yellow Book.
The co-curators of the Le Gallienne exhibition are Professor Margaret Stetz (Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware)and Mark Samuels Lasner (Senior Research Fellow at the University of Delaware Library). Because they are based in the States, I was the boots on the ground in Liverpool and my first role as exhibition research assistant was to work my way through the many boxes and folders of the Central Library’s collections. I can still remember my excitement when I opened up the first box. Inside was the handwritten manuscript for ‘How I Began,’ the correspondence relating to the Heron Allen libel, and a range of Le Gallienne’s books. Best of all was an arresting photograph of the man himself (currently in the first case of the exhibition). I was face to face with Le Gallienne.
After the initial euphoria of discovery, it became a matter of getting to grips with Le Gallienne’s handwriting and paging conventions. The more time I spent with the collection, the better I became at negotiating Le Gallienne’s quirks. Perhaps the best examples of this are the letters to his father: when I began looking at the folder, I made a note of each time Le Gallienne asked for money; before long, I realised that it was much less effort (not to mention more momentous) to record the letters in which he didn’t!
By August 2016 it was time to put my research into practice as I helped the experts, Margaret and Mark, put together their exhibition. It made me realise just how significant questions of space and conservation are in shaping any exhibition—we look and enjoy, but we don’t appreciate the work behind the scenes. To accommodate a particularly tall book, for instance, we had to rearrange whole cases, with a knock-on effect for the rest of the exhibition. On another day, we spent an entire afternoon re-fitting book stands to avoid putting undue pressure on book spines. Watching Margaret and Mark at work was a master class in itself!
By the end of the week, I was exhausted (you’d be surprised at just how much physical work is involved in setting up an exhibition), but fulfilled. After a year’s work, it feels like we’ve made something genuinely worthwhile, and I want to say an enormous thank you to Margaret and Mark for the time and energy that they’ve put into the exhibition – and everything I’ve learnt from them. Le Gallienne is definitely worth a critical reappraisal.
Richard Le Gallienne: Liverpool’s Wild(e) Poet runs until 31 October 2016 in the Hornby Library at the Liverpool Central Library. There will also be a free symposium on Late-Victorian Literary Liverpool on Saturday, 29 October 2016 as part of the exhibition.