Today, Percy Bysshe Shelley is an emblem of the Romantic movement and one of the lights of English culture—his poems memorized by schoolchildren, his life honored with a memorial in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner. That wasn’t always the case, however. In his own day, Shelley was widely loathed, seen as an immoral atheist and a traitor to his class for his revolutionary politics. His work was damned as well, receiving scathing reviews rooted as much in disapproval of his politics and personal life as in the verse itself. That’s the Shelley that Jacqueline Mulhallen brings to life in this accessible, political biography: the Shelley who, though writing when the working class was in its infancy, clearly grasped—and wanted to change—the system of oppression under which laborers and women lived. The revolutionary Shelley, Mulhallen shows, has long served as an inspiration to figures from Karl Marx to W. B. Yeats to the poets and writers of today, and for popular movements like the Chartists and the suffragettes, even as his public image and poetry became part of the establishment.
An engaging look at one of English history and literature’s most compelling, complicated, and talented figures, Percy Bysshe Shelley will be a valuable contribution to our understanding of the man and his work.