Keeping it in the Family: British and Irish Literary Generations, 1770-1930. Online exhibition


Special Collections, University of Otago

Date Created

14th November, 2016


Kinship and creativity are natural companions. As a child, Charlotte Brontë invented the imaginary world of Angria with her brother Branwell. William Wordsworth borrowed from his sister Dorothy’s diary to create one of the most famous poems in English. Long before Charles Darwin studied the fertilisation of orchids, his grandfather Erasmus wrote poetry about the loves of plants. Dante Rossetti created lavish illustrations to accompany his sister Christina’s volumes of poems.
Far from being a simple, solitary process, the creation of a poem or painting is inevitably collaborative. Keeping it in the Family. British and Irish Literary Generations, 1770-1930 considers the family as an essential, if often overlooked, element of creative production. It presents the stories of talented families working (and sometimes quarrelling) together in creating some of the most remarkable literary, artistic, and scientific works of the long 19th century. Many of the families, like the Wordsworths and the Brontës, are well known; others, like the Hunts and Porters, were famous in the past, but deserve a new look. In some cases, the family connections are surprising.
There is a familial element to the exhibition itself: many of the works come from collections gifted to the University of Otago by cousins Charles Brasch and Esmond de Beer. Furthermore, the Hocken Library and the Dunedin Public Library have generously lent rare material, allowing us to tell a more complex story of the role of kinship in creative production. Keeping it in the Family: British and Irish Literary Generations 1770-1930 is made possible by the generous support of the Royal New Zealand Marsden Fund.


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