- Born at Sussex as the eldest son of Timothy Shelley, a country squire.At Eton College, his independent spirit won him the nickname “Mad Shelley” and “Eton Atheist”.
- While at Eton he wrote 2 wild Gothic romances Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvyne, or The Rosicrucian (1811).
- Atheistic themes of irresponsible self-indulgence & violent revenge.
- Also wrote poems with his sister, published anonymously.
- At University College, Oxford, he continued to read radical authors and adopted eccentric dress and behaviour .
- In 1811, with Thomas J Hogg he wrote & circulated The Necessity of Atheism, probably the first English pamphlet to profess atheism.
- Hogg and Shelley refused to answer questions from the college authorities, and were expelled
- Shelley eloped with 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a tavern-keeper, to Scotland & they married in 1811.
- The expulsion and elopement estranged him from his father.
- Engaged in radical politics, Shelley went briefly to Ireland where he wrote the utopian allegory Queen Mab (1813) and An Address to the Irish People (1812).
- He also met Southey (whom Shelley mistook to be still a radical) and started corresponding with William Godwin, the anarchist philosopher and author of the radical book Political Justice .
- Godwin influenced Shelley, but by 1820, the poet had tired of him.
- His marriage ended in a fiasco, with Shelley eloping to Switzerland with 16-year-old Mary Godwin (a radical and idealist like himself with whom he had fallen madly in love).
Another elopement and death
- When they eloped, Mary and Shelley took with them Claire Clairmont, Mary’s step-sister.They returned to England after a few weeks, homesick and penniless
Having give birth to two of Shelley’s children, Harriet, now pregnant with another man’s child, drowned herself in 1816 (having mistakenly thought that her new lover had abandoned her).
- Shelley married Mary & she gave birth to a daughter and a son, and both died prematurely.
- The Shelleys now lived in a cottage at Marlow near Windsor Park, where Shelley’s friend Thomas Love Peacock also lived.
- Here Shelley wrote Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude (1816)
Two Early Works
- Queen Mab (1813)
- Visionary philosophical and political poem.
- Much of the poem is devoted to the fairy queen’s speeches.
- Theme of corruption of man by institutions.
- Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude (1816)
- The name “Alastor” suggested by Thomas Love Peacock, referring not to the protagonist but to the spirit who divinely animates the protagonist (Poet)’s imagination.
- Kind of spiritual autobiography .
- Long poem in blank verse about a youth of uncorrupted feelings and adventurous genius.
- Protagonist, shadowy projection of Shelley, travels through wilderness in search of ideal beauty .
Byron and Hunt
- The Shelleys went to Switzerland again with Claire, now pregnant with Byron’s child.The summer they spent with Byron in Geneva in 1816 was intellectually stimulating for all of them.
- Here Shelley wrote “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and “Mont Blanc”.
- Shelley now moved in the intellectual circles of Leigh Hunt
Hunt had given Shelley favourable reviews in The Examiner .
- Hunt introduced Shelley to Keats.
- At this time, Shelley wrote Laon and Cythna, a narrative poem featuring incestuous lovers and which attacks religion.
- This poem was later re-edited to form The Revolt of Islam (1818)
- “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”
- Incorporates the Romantic ideal of communion with nature into his own aesthetic philosophy
“Intellectual Beauty” means the intellectual idea of beauty.
- “Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni”
- An ode which compares the power of the mountain against the power of the human imagination.
- Emphasizes the ability of the human imagination to uncover truth through a study of nature, but questions the notion of religious certainty.
- The poet concludes that only a privileged few can see nature as it really is.
The Revolt of Islam (1818)
- Originally published as Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century .Epic political poem in Spenserian stanzas.
- Brother and sister Laon and Cythna have an incestuous relationship.
- They organize a revolt against the despotic ruler of the fictional state of Argolis, modelled on the Ottoman Sultan.
- The poem has nothing to do with Islam in particular.
- Idealized and orientalized version of the French revolution, discussed also in the prose preface
- While living at Marlow, Shelley also wrote the sonnet “Ozymandias”.This is a famous sonnet on the statue of an Egyptian king
A shattered, ruined statue in the desert wasteland, with an arrogant, passionate face and inscription, (“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”).
- Ozymandias’ civilization is now gone, all has been turned to dust .
- The destructive power of history
The ruined statue is now merely a monument to one man’s pride.
- A powerful statement about the insignificance of human life to the passage of time.
- The Shelleys moved to Italy in 1818 and Shelley would never return home again.Both their children died here. In 1819, another son was born.
In Italy, he wrote Julian and Maddalo, an exploration of his relations with Byron.
- He also met Byron again at Pisa, and had a circle of friends around him including Edward Trelawney and other exiles and expatriates.
- That Shelley in Naples registered himself as the father of a baby girl is still an enigma.
- 1819-1820 was his most creative period
1819-1820 , An important period of Shelley’s Life
- He wrote many of his famous works during this period:
- The lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound (1820).
- The Cenci (1819), a sordid verse tragedy.
- The Mask of Anarchy (1819).
- “The Ode to the West Wind” (written on 25 Oct 1819)
- Peter Bell the Third (a satire)
- “To Liberty”, “To Naples” (political odes).
- Letter to Maria Gisborne (written to their friend) .
- The Witch of Atlas.
- “Song to the Men of England”
- “England 1819” (a sonnet)
Two verse plays
- Prometheus Unbound (1820)
- Lyrical drama in four acts, written in Italy.
- Inspired by the view of Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost, and God as oppressor.
- Spirit of defiance.
- Replete with sexual, scientific and political symbolism.
- The Cenci (1819)
- Bleak, sordid family tragedy.
- Themes of incest, parricide and atheism.
- The melodramatic plot is taken from the true story of Beatrice Cenci, who was tried and executed for the murder of her father
- The Mask of Anarchy (1819) .
- Ballad form.
- Blames politicians like Castlereagh, Eldon, Sidmouth .
- Anarchy masquerades on a horse; his progress prevented by Hope
Ends with celebration of freedom.
- “England in 1819”
- A sonnet.
- Like “Ozymandias”, condemns the arrogance of power.
- Condemns violently the King, the nobility, the army, the laws, religion, and the Parliament.
- “To a Skylark”, “The Cloud”A Philosophical View of Reform (a political document).
- Essay on the Devil
- A Defence of Poetry
- Swellfoot the Tyrant (a satirical burlesque).
- Adonais (on the death of Keats).
- Translated scenes from Goethe’s Faust & wrote his last completed verse drama, Hellas, to raise money in England for the Greek war of independence.
- The Triumph of Life (his last major poem)
- In 1822, the periodical The Liberal was started.Started by Shelley, Byron and Leigh Hunt.
- To disseminate their radical views
As a counter-blast to the Tory Blackwood’s Magazine & Quarterly Review .
- The editor was Hunt who had recently arrived in Italy.
- On 8 July 1822, having met Leigh Hunt, Shelley was returning home on his schooner named “Don Juan”, he drowned in a boat-capsize at the Bay of Spezia.
- There have been theories that he wanted to die, that it was a political murder, etc.
- His body was cremated on the beach of Viareggio in the presence of Byron, Trelawney and Hunt.
- Posthumous Poems was published in 1824.
- Shelley’s Odes
- Older Romantics: nature as a source of truth and authentic experience
Younger Romantics: nature as a source of beauty and aesthetic experience.
- “Ode to the West Wind”
Terza rima; five stanzas each in the form of a sonnet.
- Shelley’s first convincing attempt to articulate an aesthetic philosophy through metaphors of nature
West Wind as “Destroyer and Preserver” associated with renewal, self-sacrifice, “unextinguished” political hopes, creativity.
- Hope and energy achieved through suffering and despair