Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Shelley was born in Sussex into the landed gentry and educated at Eton, but was expelled from Oxford after circulating his prose tract The Necessity of Atheism (1811).  His first major poem, Queen Mab, a utopian dream vision, was circulated in 1813 and pirated by radical publishers in 1821.  Shelley’s later major poems are restlessly expressive of both his skepticism and his transcendental idealism.  These include Alastor (1816), Prometheus Unbound (1820), Epipsychidion (1821), Adonais — an elegy commemorating John Keats (1821), and The Triumph of Life, left unfinished at his death.  Shelley also published two early Gothic novels — Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvyne (1811) — and in 1821 wrote a major prose manifesto, A Defence of Poetry.  He was reviled during his lifetime by the Quarterly and other periodicals for his alleged atheism, his liberal politics, his questioning of marriage, his abandonment of his first wife Harriet, and his association with the ‘Cockney’ Leigh Hunt and the ‘Satanic’ Lord Byron.  After the 1816 stay in Switzerland that inspired his second wife Mary to write Frankenstein (1818), Shelley and his family lived from 1818 in Italy, where he drowned off the coast in July 1822.  The Edinburgh did not mention Shelley while he was alive, but its ambivalent review by Hazlitt of his Posthumous Poems in 1824 called his poetry ‘a passionate dream’ and ‘a fever of the soul’ [ER, 40:494].


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