Shelley Incinerated

Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


When Percy Shelley drowned in the Gulf of Spezia in 1822, he had just spent several days with Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt in discussions about the content of The Liberal, the periodical to be edited by Hunt. The meetings and discussions about this project had been long anticipated and, for Shelley, were important in more than one way. Shelley had not seen his friend Hunt in over four years; and though negotiations during the days Shelley stayed at Byron’s villa were sometimes ominously prickly, Shelley set sail with Edward Williams on July 8 in an ebullient mood, having finally staged the coup of drawing Hunt to Italy and of assembling an arguably unprecedented group of contributors, including, besides himself, Byron, Hunt, Mary Shelley, and William Hazlitt. Put another way, Shelley’s death was less the culmination of a life1 than a disastrous interruption, uprooting the lives of his dearest friends and derailing plans over a year in execution. The costs of that death are captured starkly in Mary Shelley’s letters and Journals, in the demise of The Liberal and dissolution of its circle, and in the sheer number of accounts of Shelley’s death narrated by its various members.


Introductory Note Authorized Collection Visionary Company Textual Creation Deare Friend 
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  1. 1.
    Harold Bloom famously reads the end of Adonais as both “the sepulcher of a humanist and heroic quest” and as an allegory of Shelley’s “great but suicidal” life in The Visionary Company, 350. Several scholars have shied away from this prophetic reading while further unpacking the poem’s focus on death as constitutive of the poetic self Among those are Jerold E. Hogle, Shelley’s Process: Radical Transference and the Development of His Major Works (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 317–19Google Scholar
  2. Karen A. Weisman, Imageless Truths: Shelley’s Poetic Fictions (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), 141–46Google Scholar
  3. Simon Haines, Shelley’s Poetry: The Divided-Self (London: Macmillan; New York. St. Martin’s Press, 1997), 207–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3.
    The fullest account of the events and texts produced by Shelley’s death remains Leslie A. Marchand, “Trelawny on the Death of Shelley,” Keats-Shelley Memorial Bulletin 4 (1952): 9–34.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Larry H. Peer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PennsylvaniaUSA

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