Percy Bysshe Shelley
Born: 4th of August, 1792 in Sussex, England
Died: 18th of July 1822, by drowning in Lerici, Italy
Percy Bysshe Shelley is a strange and even a little elusive character; not destructive like Byron, but certainly not without his own brand of violence and willfulness. Elusive actually is probably a fair assessment, he is only elusive in the same way that most of us are, in that we can’t really guess at his motivation for many of the actions he takes, some of which seem totally inexplicable.
The young Percy was born into a family of means and went to Syon House Academy in London for his early education where he showed a particular interest in science, and a violent response to bullying. This may have planted the seed that lead to the poet pushing back against all forms of control and governance, which he saw as a form of bullying, for the rest of his life³. This anti authoritative streak inevitably drew him to the great antiestablishment thinker of his time, the often anarchsitic writer and philosopher, William Godwin (The father of Mary Godwin, later Shelley). But before we end up at William Godwin’s residence in The Polygon we must first address the often pushed aside figure in this story¹:
Harriet Westbrook was born on the 1st of August 1795. She was intellegent, witty and the daughter of a coffee house owner in Grosvener Square². Harriet forged a friendship with Shelley’s younger sister Helen, and the match appears to have been encouraged, at least by the Westbrook’s as a marraige between the two would mean an elevation in class for their daughter². The two eloped to Scotland when Harriet was 16 and Percy, 19. The legality of the marraige was dubious so they remarried 3 years later. They had two children, Charles and Ianthe together, but not long after the birth of their first child Percy began disappearing for long periods of time. Supported by her family, and given financial support from Percy, the rapid and messy separation did not leave her financially destitute, but emotionally the whole ideal had caused a great deal of distress and trauma. This grief, for grief we must call it, was intensified when Percy and Mary ran off together. There is talk of her taking a lover, and it is documented that she took lodging away from her family as she had become pregnant again, this time out of wedlock.
At some stage after this, still pregnant, in 1816, the year of the events in the Villa Diodati, she wrote emotional farewell letters to her family, and drowned herself in the Serpentine River.
I think we’ll end this post here with the death of Harriet Shelley nee Westbrook and pick up on Percy’s narrative another time, because this tragedy is too often glossed over.
At what cost do we have Frankenstein in the form Mary wrote it?
It’s certainly not worth the life of a 21 year old, who never asked to be part of this romantic tragedy in the first place.
- Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Percy Bysshe Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/PShelley/pshelley.html [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].
- Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Harriet Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/People/hshelley.html [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].
- Bieri, J., 2004. Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth’s Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 (Vol. 1). University of Delaware Press.
- Featured image: Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran- National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1234