Mary Shelley's Editing of Percy Bysshe Shelley

What follows is an edited version of the CFP prepared by Anna Mercer for The Shelley Conference 2017. You can read the original version here.

On 14 and 15 of September 2017 a two-day conference in London, England celebrated the writings of two major authors from the Romantic Period: Percy Bysshe Shelley (PBS) and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (MWS).

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There is a continuing scholarly fascination with all things 'Shelley' which is due in part to the
unprecedented access we now have to their texts (in annotated scholarly editions) and manuscripts (presented in facsimile and transcript). The Shelleys' works are more readily available than ever before. However somewhat disturbingly, there is no annual or even semi-regular conference dedicated to PBS (comparable to those that exist for other Romantic writers). It was this fact that prompted Anna Mercer and Harrie Neal to organise The Shelley Conference 2017.

Shockingly, it has taken almost 200 years for detailed, comprehensive editions of PBS's works to appear.  I believe he is the only major poet in the English literary canon to be so woefully under served. However, two editions are nearing completion: The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley edited by Donald Reiman, Neil Fraistat and Nora Crook; and The Poems of Shelley edited Kelvin Everest, G.M. Matthews, Michael Rossington and Jack Donovan.  There is much, therefore, to celebrate. In addition there is the astonishing Shelley-Godwin Archive which will provide, according to the website, "the digitized manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft, bringing together online for the first time ever the widely dispersed handwritten legacy of this uniquely gifted family of writers." It must be seen to be believed.

Conferences at Gregynog in 1978, 1980, and 1992 and the Percy Shelley Bicentennial Conference in New York in 1992 have provided a wonderful legacy for future Shelleyan academics, and it is in the spirit of these events The Shelley Conference 2017 was undertaken. MWS is included in this new conference, as she also does not have her own regular academic event. However, the recent conference 'Beyond Frankenstein's Shadow' (Nancy, France, 2016) focused specifically on MWS, and the emphasis placed on her work at the 'Summer of 1816' conference (Sheffield, 2016) indicated that her role on the main stage of Romanticism is increasingly appreciated.

It is for these reasons that the 'Shelley' of the conference title was left ambiguous. The Shelleys are increasingly seen as a collaborative literary partnership, and modern criticism reinforces the importance of reading their works in parallel. The nuances of this, however, are far from simple, and this statement does not imply there is anything like a sense of either consistent 'unity' or 'conflict' when considering the Shelleys' literary relationship. This is the kind of issue which was explored at The Shelley Conference 2017 by speakers such as the legendary Nora Crook.

 Prof. Nora Crook speaking at The Shelley Conference 2017

Prof. Nora Crook speaking at The Shelley Conference 2017

Multiple parallel panel sessions have allowed the organizers to present a wide range of exciting papers delivered by researchers from the UK, Europe, and beyond, as well as three featured presentations by eminent Shelley scholars: Kelvin Everest, Nora Crook and Michael O'Neill. These are some of the "superstars" of the Shelleyan world.


Today I am pleased to present the first of the three featured presentations: Nora Crook speaking on Mary Shelley's Editing of Percy Bysshe Shelley.  This lyrical and passionate presentation provides insights into the extraordinary care with which Mary edited and even enhanced her husband's poetic works. 21st Century scholarship is increasingly focused on the literary collaboration of these two uniquely gifted creators. The picture that is emerging is wondrous, and nothing at all like the two dimensional, comic book perversion offered by Haifaa al-Mansour's movie "Mary Shelley". See my review here.

Next week? Professor Kelvin Everest on "The Heart's Echo"; a touching, beautifully judged paean to the way in which certain themes echoed down the corridors of Percy Shelley's short life.

Nora Crook is Emeritus Professor at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. Her chief
publications include the co-authored Shelley's Venomed Melody (Cambridge University
Press 1986), a monograph on Shelley and medicine, which was followed by Kipling's
Myths of Love and Death
(Macmillan, 1990) and numerous journal articles and chapters.
Her international reputation was established by her textual work on the Shelleys
between 1991-2002. Editions of two of P.B. Shelley's notebooks in the Bodleian Library
alternated with her general editorship of twelve volumes of Mary Shelley's works, which
included her own editions of Frankenstein and Valperga. Currently she is co-general
editor of the multi-volume Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Johns Hopkins, 2000
onward), with special responsibility for poems edited by Mary Shelley after PB Shelley's death.