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A Public Display of Affection

Exhibition in Rauner Library focuses on love

The Rauner Special Collections Library will deliver an unusually memorable Valentine to the Dartmouth community this month in the form of an exhibition beginning Tuesday, February 7. Featuring treasures from the collections that illustrate love found, love lost, and yes-even love gone wrong, "Romance in Rauner" is curated by Special Collections Librarian Jay Satterfield, Archives Specialist Barbara Krieger, and Rare Books Specialist Patti Houghton.

Collection of books
Some of the treasures on display beginning February 7 in "Romance in Rauner." (photo by Sarah Benelli)

"This is a lighthearted exhibit," says Satterfield, "but we also want people to think about the history of passion, love, and courtship." Expressions of love past, real and imagined, will be included in the show, through amorous books and other artifacts spanning over three centuries. Beginning with a 1637 edition of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the exhibition features a first edition of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a pearl-encrusted and gold-leafed Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam, florid Victorian valentines, gift books, and, of course, love letters.

"My dear and beloved Tabitha," begins one, penned in 1770 by Joseph Johnson, a graduate of Moor's Charity School in Connecticut,  "...  I do certainly love you, and intend to have you." The object of his affection was none other than the daughter of Samson Occom, Eleazar Wheelock's partner in the founding of Dartmouth College. Johnson got his girl, eventually marrying Tabitha on December 2, 1773.

The not-so-fortunate young man pictured on one of the pages of Philip Ayres' Emblems of Love in Four Languages, published ca. 1683, probably didn't get his girl. Beneath a grim engraving of an unquestionably jilted lover, the author states, "Tis excellent to be loves martyr." "Emblem books," says Satterfield, "were popular in Italy, France, the Netherlands, and England during the 16th and 17th centuries. They sought to transcend language by combining images with text." The "polygot" feature, he adds, meant they could be understood across much of Europe.

Rauner Special Collections curators
From left: Special Collections Librarian Jay Satterfield, Archives Specialist Barbara Krieger, and Rare Books Specialist Patti Houghton, share a laugh while selecting items for "Romance in Rauner."

Times may change, but affairs of the heart remain the same. The cover of a 19th-century song proclaims, "I'm Always Falling in Love with the Other Fellow's Girl," while a 1934 play, Cupid Scores a Touchdown, by one Erastus Osgood, has a decidedly happier ending. Among a cast of characters that includes Stanley Comtom (a college athlete) and Gladys Fluttermore (an extremely live wire), love reigns supreme throughout its three acts:  "Kickoff, Scrimmage, and Touchdown."

And of course each February, the boy with the bow and arrow takes up residence at Dartmouth during Winter Carnival. "Romance in Rauner" also features archival carnival photographs taken at the train station in White River Junction of young men, seemingly oblivious to the cold, waiting patiently for trains from Smith, Wellesley, and Mount Holyoke. 

By LAUREL STAVIS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08