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Shelley Sites/Sights

Livorno & Montenero

Shelley visited Livorno in April 1818, when he, Mary, Claire, three children, and two female servants—Amelia (Milly) Shields and Louise (Elise) Duvillard—left London for the continent . The party reached Milan 4 April, visited the Italian lakes, sent Allegra and Elise to Byron on 28 April, and visited Livorno (Leghorn) in May, where they stayed in the house of John and Maria Gisborne while the Gisbornes were in England .

In June 1819, following the death of William ("Willmouse") Shelley in Rome, the Shelleys fled back to Livorno and stayed at the Villa Valsovano. Mary was deep in depression over the loss of her second child within a year (her daughter Clara had died in September of 1818). Shelley, attempting to lose himself in work, wrote The Cenci during that summer.

They would also return to Livorno in 1820, and stay with the Gisbornes once more. Shelley wrote his “Letter to Maria Gisborne” at that time.

Shelley's final visit, however, remains the most tragic. On 1 July 1822, Shelley and Williams sailed from Lerici to Livorno to meet the Hunts. The two sailed back to Lerici on 8 July, and disappeared. On 19 July, Trelawny identified their bodies, one near Via Reggio and the other three miles down the shore at Lericcio.

Livorno was perhaps the most frustrating of the Italian sites that we explored. Our attempts to communicate in English, college French, and execrable Italian were fruitless; no one could direct us to the Villa Valsovano or the Gisbournes' Casa Ricci. A day spent wandering through the hills of Montenero yielded little except the (admittedly magnificent) views Shelley would have had overlooking Livorno.

We did, however, enjoy one small victory when we accidentally stumbled upon Byron's magnificent (and well-hidden) Villa Dupuy, now a private home. From the top of Montenero, one takes the small descending road on the left (not the Via Byron) for roughly a half mile. A bumpy, nondescript dirt road on the left—the first one encounters after leaving the town—leads to the still-elegant villa and its exquisite views of the surrounding countryside. One may quibble with Byron's morals, but the man certainly knew how to live.

UPDATE! Recently, Susan Milford typed "valsovano" into her search engine and one of the sites that came up was www.oldandsold.com/articles08/tuscany-11.shtml. This early-twentieth century article locates the Villa Valsovano site "at the end of the Via del Fagiano, just within the Municipal wall: in Shelley's day it was far outside the town." According to the anonymous author, the villa was still standing, although the porch at the top was no longer glassed in. Milford found that the Via del Fagiano does exist on MSN maps: the road is a turn-off from the road leading from Livorno to Montenero.

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Published @ RC

January 2006

NaturalFeature