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The Last Man
Includes HTML, ASCII, and SGML versions, other works by Mary Shelley, works and excerpts from works cited by Shelley, bibliography, maps, images & sound files, critical essays, contemporary works on plague, notes.
Mary Shelley's The Last Man imagines a remote future in which the Mediterranean region, Greece and the Levant, is still a site of international conflict, as it was when Shelley wrote. In 1820, the Greeks rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, leading in 1821 to the War of Independence that lasted for nearly a decade. In 1827, European allies (including Great Britain) who had earlier supported Turkish forces intervened on behalf of Greece.
Here, said I, once flourished an opulent city; here was the seat of a powerful empire. Yes! these places, now wild and desert, were once animated by a living multitude; a busy crowd circulated in these streets now solitary.
A key scene in one of Shelley's sources, Mercier's L'an 2440, imagines Louis XIV (1643-1715) returning in 2440 to the palace he built at Versailles. This historical prophecy, written from the perspective of the 1770s, is rendered especially ironic in light of later events during the French Revolution.
Venice, a favorite city of both Byron and Shelley (see the latter's Julian and Maddalo), traditionally celebrated a ritual marriage ceremony symbolizing the union of its doges, or rulers, with the sea. The Turkish dominance of the eastern Mediterranean during the 17th and 18th centuries effectively displaced Venice's long-established power in the region.
Vathek, the notoriously decadent oriental tale by William Beckford, was published (first in French) in 1786. Byron was a great fan of the book. The Caliph Vathek's initial act of hubris (which ultimately earns him damnation) is the building of a gigantic tower.
Beckford himself commissioned a monumental tower for his own home, Fonthill Abbey, that eventually collapsed of structural flaws--in effect of its own weight.
Virginia Water, a large (approximately 160-acre) artificial lake at the edge of Windsor Great Park. Two contemporary engravings of the lake, after drawings by Turner, illustrated Mary Shelley's short story, "The Mourner," which is also set in Windsor.
Mary Shelley spent time at Windsor again in 1825 while preparing to write The Last Man; she comments on Virginia Water in a letter.