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.
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Jacqueline Mulhallen is a playwright, actor, and scholar, and the author of The Theatre of Shelley.Review:
“In this compelling and eye-opening study, Jacqueline Mulhallen demonstrates how Percy Bysshe Shelley’s passionate humanitarianism enlightens every aspect of the revolutionary agenda that informs all his writing, poetry and prose alike. Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, Mulhallen’s book reminds us anew of that great Romantic’s robust socio-political vision, a vision that remains as relevant and vital for our own volatile times as it was for his some two centuries ago, if not even more so.” (Stephen C. Behrendt, University of Nebraska)
“To really appreciate the work of Percy Shelley, you have to understand the political and cultural context of his time. This book takes you there. Humankind needed Shelley back then, and this book reminds us of how much we need him now. It is an honest, straightforward, revolutionary look at a truly revolutionary life. The world needs more Shelley, the world needs this book.” (Benjamin Zephaniah, poet, activist, and author of Propa Propaganda)
“Fresh, clear, and compelling, this is the best compact account of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s revolutionary life currently available. Jacqueline Mulhallen places Shelley vividly in his own times, and shows how and why his imagination, vision, and new exciting art offer such inspiring examples to us now.” (Nicholas Roe, University of St. Andrews)
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