On 19 July 2016, the University of Cambridge made a startling and almost completely unheralded announcement. They were in possession of a page from the register of a hotel in Chamonix: not just any page and not just any hotel. The hotel was the Hotel de Villes de Londres and the page in question was the one upon which Percy Bysshe Shelley had inscribed his famous declaration that he was an atheist, a lover of humanity and a democrat. Not a copy of it….THE page.
Shelley had an enormous impact on me and my dad's life - though we had radically different ideas about exactly who Shelley was (which was the subject of part one of this essay). I want to explore this theme by digging into a photographic album I discovered among my father's effects after he died. It is a slim volume entitled "Shelleyana". I think we will find much to reflect upon, and Shelley may perhaps seem less remote and more immediate.
My father’s Shelley, as I VERY quickly discovered, was very different from mine. He loved the lyric poet. He loved the Victorian version. He loved Mary’s sanitized version. In a weird way he bought into Mathew Arnold's caricature of Shelley (“a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating his wings in a luminous void in vain.”) – and loved him the more for it. He hated the idea that Shelley was a revolutionary.
Most writing on Shelley seems frustratingly designed for scholarly audiences and much of it is almost unreadable by anyone outside a university setting. Most of the books and articles written between 1980 and around 2005 are written in a scholarly style that limits readership to a handful of people: esoteric, jargon-filled, arcane and at times pompous.
This is a pity because many of these books contain extremely important insights that would help the lay reader to better understand Shelley’s intent in writing a poem like Prometheus Unbound. For my part, I hope to write about Shelley in a manner that is straightforward and accessible.