Percy Bysshe Shelley

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xiv + 280 pp. $80.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0512854008).

Reviewed by
Dana Van Kooy
University of Colorado at Boulder

Just as Mont Blanc has been central to the Shelleyan canon, so too the sublime as an aesthetic discourse has been pivotal to our understanding of Percy Shelley as a poet, a philosopher, and a radical. Cian Duffy's Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime challenges the "critical orthodoxy which assumes not only that there is such a thing as a generic 'romantic sublime', but also that this 'sublime' rehearses the transcendentalist paradigms of [Kant's] Critique of Judgment" (5). Eschewing Burke and Kant, Duffy reorients the Shelleyan sublime through two other texts: C.F. Volney's Les Ruines, ou Méditations sur les Révolutions des Empires (translated into English in the early 1790s) and Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1766-88). Both texts, according to Duffy, embody the eighteenth-century idea of "ruin-sentiment" (38-9), a term which links imperial collapse to moral decadence and, as a discourse of political and social reform, offers to resolve the terrifying prospect of ruin through an appeal to moral restraint. Shelley, Duffy argues, takes this causal formulation a step further; the sublime provides the means of representing the inevitable imperial failure as a natural cultural process that mirrors society's moral and political corruption. Shelley's sublime landscapes—significantly, inhabited by volcanoes, avalanches, and other events marking geological catastrophe—signify the natural necessity of revolution. This essentially inverts the traditional theistic discourse of the natural sublime; instead of pointing to God as the organizing principle of life, Shelley's sublime exposes "the artificiality, the un-naturalness of contemporary social structures" (9). Duffy's study places a new emphasis on the catastrophic imagery of the natural sublime while it also redefines the Shelleyan sublime as an "aesthetic ideology" in order to be attentive to the figurative power of the natural sublime to change the observer's conception of what is "natural" or what is "right."

James Bieri, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth's Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 & Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Exile of Unfulfilled Renown, 1816-1822

James Bieri, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth's Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004. 457pp. $69.50 (Hdbk; ISBN 0-87413-870-1).
James Bieri, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Exile of Unfulfilled Renown, 1816-1822. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005. 441pp. $69.50 (Hdbk; ISBN 0-87413-893-0).

Reviewed by
Stephen C. Behrendt
University of Nebraska

James Bieri's new two-volume biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley appeared in 2004-05 with relatively little fanfare, perhaps because it was published by a less prominent press than one might expect for so major a biography. A flurry of comments in October 2005, though, on the on-line discussion list of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, has focused attention at last on this important new study. As well it should. For Bieri's biography, which will surely be the definitive study of Shelley's life and work for many years to come, advances and enriches the state of contemporary Shelley studies in remarkable ways.

Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Shelley's Textual Seductions: Plotting Utopia in the Erotic and Political Works

Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Shelley's Textual Seductions: Plotting Utopia in the Erotic and Political Works. Studies in Major Literary Authors Series.  New York: Routledge, 2002. xviii + 351pp. $90.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-415-93702-7).

Reviewed by
John Kandl
Walsh University

Samuel Lyndon Gladden's Shelley's Textual Seductions itself presents a seductively engaging study of the political implications of Shelley's major "erotic" works, including Oedipus Tyrannus, The Cenci, Julian and Maddalo, Epipsychidion, Laon and Cythna, and Prometheus Unbound. Throughout the book, Gladden demonstrates how Shelley's "processes of textual seduction model political strategies for displacing larger oppressive social structures" (xvi ). "Time and again," Gladden states, "Shelley stages the erotic as a device for renegotiating power and privilege, so that every context in which the erotic figures must be understood as a resolutely political one" (xvii). Acknowledging that the erotic has traditionally been associated with the apolitical and private, Gladden draws upon a "range of interpretive strategies" (xv) as well as an impressive range of critical authorities, to reveal the ways in which, for Shelley, the physical (or public, exterior world) and the psychological (or private, interior world) "dissolve into a radical contingency" (xvi). Shelley's dissolution of boundaries between the private and the public, which Gladden playfully and appropriately terms "ooziness," expresses at once the most definitive characteristic of the erotic while exploiting its subversive potential for exposing, and offering alternatives to, oppressive social relations. Gladden contends that Shelley, perhaps to avoid charges of treason, transposed "the language of radical politics into a discourse of eroticism," developing "a parallel language for the production of anti-hegemonic texts [which enabled him] to speak about political engagements even amidst seemingly apolitical retreats to pleasure, love, and aesthetics" (18).

The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 1. Edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat

The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 1. Edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. xlviii + 492pp.  Illus.: 7 halftones.  $80.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8018-6119-5).

Reviewed by
Nancy Moore Goslee
University of Tennessee

Scholars and critics have long needed a new, complete version of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poetry.  His controversial politics, his marital complexities, his Italian exile, and his unexpected early death all contributed to a legacy of textual confusion that even the magisterial "Julian" edition of Roger Ingpen and Walter Peck in 1927 could not solve (see, The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 10 vols., edited by Roger Ingpen and Walter Edwin Peck, Julian Editions [London: E. Benn, Ltd.; New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1927]).  Now that Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat have given us Volume 1 of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (CPPBS), our needs have been answered with a profoundly well-planned, meticulously-executed edition.  Its editorial commentary and notes often read like the denouéments of detective stories, offering solutions to long-standing textual problems with a clear placement of these poems in the all-too-human contexts of compositional occasion and production difficulties.  This volume, the first of a planned seven or eight volumes in the completed edition, explains and tests the editorial principles that are to govern the entire project.  It then tests these principles on six groupings of Shelley's earliest published or otherwise circulated poems.  Volume 1 brings into focus scattered, suppressed, and virtually unknown works by this brilliant, busy, and oddly canny young poet.  If the uncanny of the gothic is the most unifying characteristic of these early works, the real uncanny here is the mystery of how the mature poet, with his verbal and intellectual brilliance, emerges from such derivative, if playfully derivative, poems as these.

Susan Cabell Djabri, with Annabelle F. Hughes and Jeremy Knight, The Shelleys of Field Place: The Story of the Family and their Estates & The Letters of Bysshe and Timothy Shelley and Other Documents from Horsham Museum & the West Sussex Record Office

Susan Cabell Djabri, with Annabelle F. Hughes and Jeremy Knight, The Shelleys of Field Place. The Story of the Family and their Estates. Horsham, West Sussex: Horsham Museum Society for Horsham, Museum, 2000. iv + 200pp., illus: 23 b&w (maps, tables, etc.) + 1 color. £10. (Pbk; ISBN: 1-902484-08-8).
The Letters of Bysshe and Timothy Shelley and Other Documents from Horsham Museum & the West Sussex Record Office. Transcribed and annotated by Susan C. Djabri and Jeremy Knight. Horsham, West Sussex. Horsham Museum Society for Horsham Museum, 2000. ii + 186pp., illus: 14 b&w + 1 color. £10. (Pbk; ISBN: 1-902484-09-6).

Reviewed by
Nora Crook
Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge

First, a brief preamble on the context of the production of the books under review. Horsham in Sussex, over the two past centuries, has been mostly luke-warm about its most famous son, but Shelley's bicentennial year (1992) and the growth of the British heritage enterprise business provided an occasion for a public shift. The dramatic and original Shelley Fountain (1996) now graces the Horsham Arts Centre; exhibitions have been mounted, including one on Mary Shelley (1997), complete with a small laboratory within which a fearsome Creature realistically heaved its bosom. Visitors can follow a Shelley trail, while in the last decade the attractive little local museum has nurtured its own archive and has built up, through bequests and local sponsorship, an impressive Shelley book collection, probably the largest open to the public in the UK outside universities and the British Library. Scholars are welcomed. Items may be studied with three working days' notice; a few printed holdings are unique, such as a copy of Medwin's 1847 Life of Shelley containing Richard Garnett's own transcription of Medwin's autograph corrections.

Kim Wheatley, Shelley and His Readers: Beyond Paranoid Politics

Kim Wheatley, Shelley and His Readers: Beyond Paranoid Politics. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.  xi + 278pp. $34.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8262-1221-2).

Reviewed by
G. Kim Blank
University of Victoria, British Columbia

Quite early in his writing career, Percy Bysshe Shelley came to accept, with varying amounts of resignation, resentment, and disappointment, that he was more or less writing for posterity—not that this ever stopped him from wanting to reform his own world, or from confronting hypocrisy, injustice, and tyranny. Once an idealist, always an idealist—well, it helps considerably if you die young. Shelley knew this very well, fatalistically prefacing his first mature poem, Alastor (1816), with a few lines from Wordsworth's Excursion (1814):

                    The good die first,
And those whose hearts are as dry as summer dust,
Burn to the socket.

Shelley ironically turns Wordsworth's own words against his older and now disappointing contemporary, who, as Shelley laments in his sonnet to Wordsworth, was as good as dead anyway; as for those dry-hearted survivors, Shelley may well have had in mind his contemporary reviewers. Kim Wheatley's Shelley and His Readers examines the relationship between Shelley and his contemporary reviewers, sensibly noting that in his early writing Shelley's radicalism is openly oppositional, resulting in equally oppositional reviews, while later poems, like Adonais and Prometheus Unbound, remain radical but sometimes manage to subvert or divert the reviewers' reactionary responses with their highly aestheticized form. The result, then, of poetry like Shelley's might be to encourage readers to separate the political from the aesthetic.

William Jewett, Fatal Autonomy: Romantic Drama and the Rhetoric of Agency and Michael Simpson, Closet Performances: Political Exhibition and Prohibition in the Dramas of Byron and Shelley

William Jewett, Fatal Autonomy: Romantic Drama and the Rhetoric of Agency. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997. xiv + 262pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8014-3352-5).
Michael Simpson, Closet Performances: Political Exhibition and Prohibition in the Dramas of Byron and Shelley. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.  xiii + 469pp. 
$55.00  (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8047-3095-4).

Reviewed by
Catherine Burroughs
Wells College and Cornell University

In an age when anxieties about the political efficacy of institutional theatre are so palpable, it is no surprise that the question of why certain playscripts reside in "the closet" has proved a crucial line of investigation for scholars. Indeed, recent critical preoccupation with how the body and mind of any reader-spectator are implicated in both the acts of playreading and playgoing seems a poignant response to the desire to believe that theatre, broadly defined, can effect positive cultural change.

William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation

William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. xiv + 189pp. $42.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8130-1300-3).

Reviewed by
Jonathan Gross
DePaul University

William Brewer's The Shelley-Byron Conversation is an elegantly written account of the moments of influence and intertextuality that occurred between Byron and Shelley during the six years in which they engaged in their diabolical conversations. Brewer's book differs from Robinson's Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Fight (1976) and Stephen Behrendt's Shelley and His Audiences (University of Nebraska Press, 1989) in seeing a "conversation" between Byron and Shelley rather than a debate "between Shelley's meliorism and Byron's pessimism" (Preface). One point of Brewer's study is that the Shelley-Byron conversation was exploratory in nature. By the time Byron wrote The Island and Shelley wrote The Triumph of Life, they had not only learned from each other, but seemed to be experimenting with positions antithetical to the views they held when they first met. The Island is Byron's most Shelleyan poem, and The Triumph of Life is Shelley's most pessimistic work.

Charles E. Robinson, Ed. The Frankenstein Notebooks: A Facsimile Edition of Mary Shelley's Novel, 1816-17 (Parts One and Two)

Charles E. Robinson, Ed., The Frankenstein Notebooks: A Facsimile Edition of Mary Shelley's Novel, 1816-17 (Parts One and Two). The Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics, Volume IX, General Ed., Donald H. Reiman. Garland Publishing, 1996. cx + 827 pp. $340. (ISBN 0-8153-1608-9).

Reviewed by
Steven Jones
Loyola University Chicago

First, in the interest of full disclosure: I was lucky enough a few years back to do journeyman editor's work on the related Garland Publishing series, The Bodleian Shelley MSS, also under the general editorship of Donald H. Reiman. It was a remarkable education, one which left me thoroughly convinced of the larger importance of these monumental series. Their purpose is, first, to disseminate knowledge of archival primary sources, to make widely available, in photographic facsimiles accompanied by expert transcriptions and annotations, rare materials that were once only accessible to a handful of scholars conducting specialized research primarily in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. My own modest contributions to the series were like the proverbial individual stones laid in the wall of a larger collective edifice. The two volumes of The Frankenstein Notebooks here under review represent, by contrast, a whole archival wing of useful knowledge, a striking example of just what this kind of "diplomatic" edition--for that is what these two volumes are: an important scholarly edition--really can do. At the bicentennial of the author's birth, along with Nora Crook's Pickering edition and Stuart Curran's forthcoming Pennsylvania Hypertext edition, Charles Robinson's edition of Frankenstein manuscripts puts studies of the novel on a whole new footing for the coming century.

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