Travel Tuesday: The Shelley Memorial

Everything in today's post stems from my encounter, at age 20, with the movie The Saint. In this movie, in case you have never seen it, Val Kilmer plays "The Saint," or Simon Templar, a rogue extortionist and black market trader in information who goes by many names. He has found out that Emma, played by Elizabeth Shue, has developed a priceless formula for cold fusion, and he has set out to find and seduce her, so that he can have an opportunity to steal the information and sell it. He discovers that she studies and works at Oxford University, and then breaks into her apartment and discovers things about her. One important detail is that she loves the Shelley memorial that is at University College in Oxford. (She loves poetry and beautiful quotations, I immediately latched on to her character when I saw the movie. She was everything I wanted to be.)

Anyway, in the video below, Simon is on a mission to seduce Emma and has altered his appearance, playing a role of Romantic adventurer based on photos of her father and her love of the Romantic poets. She falls for it, of course; but even though this scene is perhaps a bit cheesy, I still count it as one of my all-time movie favorites.

In any case, as you can imagine, I made it my mission to relive this experience the best way I could when I went to Oxford for the first time back in 2009.

Now, of course I love the movie The Saint, and it provided the main reason that I had to see the sculpture; but I also love the if you didn't know. (See last post.) Even though I am a Victorianist, I am a hobby Romanticist, and I LOVE researching them for fun. Many of you might know that Percy Shelley's wife (well, eventually....they weren't married at the time) Mary wrote Frankenstein. (For more information about this, the Shelley's connections to Lord Byron, and a WONDERFUL travel article about their time at Lake Geneva, read "Lake Geneva as Byron and Shelley Knew It". This article briefly alludes to Shelley drowning at age 29--a tragedy, for he was an amazing poet.

But, back to my story...

I took a guidebook with me on my trip that I planned to read on the plane, and I still remember my gasp of horror (and probably those around me remember it, too) when I discovered that there was a possibility that I wouldn't be able to see the Shelley memorial.

The reason?

The memorial is housed in a college that is not open to the public.

Many of the colleges at Oxford open for short periods in the afternoon, and for a few pounds visitors can wander in designated areas. University College, however, is an exception.

There was a small note, however, that explained that you could petition the porter at the college gates, though it might take a couple of times to gain entrance...or not at all, depending on the porter's mood and events at the college.

Well, my hotel was right down the street from University College. I passed those imposing wooden gates that blocked me out every single day. The first day after my conference (this was the 2009 trip for the Harry Potter conference), as I said, I visited Christ Church and a few other places. But I remember passing the University College gates that day. I passed them the next, too. I stalled for a few minutes, but I am painfully shy sometimes and I really dreaded being turned away. I decided to turn around and go to the Botanical Gardens instead (where the photo at the top of this blog was taken).

Well, by the third day, I had gained some confidence, and, to help matters, I noticed that the door to the college was ajar, for someone had just gone in. I decided it was now or never, so I walked up the stone steps, through the heavy wooden doors, and into the porter's lodge.

There was an older man behind a desk and I profusely apologized for taking up his time and proceeded to beg (literally) for access to the Shelley monument.

Well, he must have taken pity on me, because he gave me the biggest smile and said, "Of course you may see it, love," and took me straight back. He also patted me on the shoulder and said that he would leave me alone there, though he wasn't supposed to do so, and I could take as much time as I liked. Again, I have to reiterate that I have met some of the kindest people in Oxford. I really think the world of so many of them.

So, I stood there in awe, but realized that I hadn't asked if I could take pictures. I ran after him and asked for permission, and of course he said yes.

And, here is the best part: I got an incredibly beautiful photo of it (at least in my opinion). This is what it looks like behind the gate:

(Source: my photo)

But here is the shot I love...and I love the story behind getting it, because it was a great moment:

(Source: my photo.)

The thing is that "Emma" in The Saint had it right: "The light [does] hold him in silence." That is "what I like about it," too. I also like that it is such a gorgeous sculpture.

The sculpture does have a history of abuse, for the space designated for it is not that attractive and immature undergrads have taken to defacing it parts. All kidding aside, though, I do love it. It was everything I had hoped it would be. It was one of the few moments when I almost cried in England (another, when I did cry, was when I viewed Princess Diana's dresses in London during my last trip...but that is another post for another time!).

Another interesting resource that supplies info about the movie and Shelley: Shelley/The Saint.


Amy said…
Very interesting post, and that is an amazing photo of the sculpture. It's so neat that you were able to see it in person. Now about Shelley...a little while ago, a friend of ours was cleaning out a house for a family. The mother had died and the father was put in a rest home. There were lots of old books, and this friend has no interest in books so he put them in a 30 gallon trash can and gave them to me. I have gone through them all but not in great detail. I just glanced through them, and I believe there was an old Shelley book in there. I'll look again.
Susie said…
Exciting! You should check that out and see how old it is! I like Shelley a lot. I think that Keats is my favorite of the second generation of Romantic poets, though. But seeing this monument was amazing!
Crix said…
I too liked that film very much, although on many web sites it was denigrated. The many disguises are fun, the Saint never kills anybody there and in my view it is a very lovable love story - and that from me being a man :-)

Susie said…
I loved the disguises...and, of course, that some of it was filmed in Oxford! Glad you liked it, too!

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