Friday, February 5, 2016

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Husband of Mary Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Portrait by Amelia Curran 1819
Percy Bysshe Shelley is among the most esteemed poets of the eighteenth century. He was a very passionate man and his work reflected his passion. Much of what he did and wrote during his lifetime was considered inappropriate; he was a man who lived by his own rules. He set a lot of stock in his feelings and it’s obvious that he abided by them. His actions were often rash and they got him into trouble at times. However, he was considered a peacekeeper and a kind man in his circle of friends, which included many other great writers of the time.

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on August 4, 1792, in Sussex. He was the oldest of Timothy and Elizabeth Shelley’s seven children. He had a very privileged childhood as the grandson of a baronet and the son of a future baronet. He attended Syon House Academy from 1802 to 1804 and was enrolled in Eton when he finished. He attended Eton until 1810, when he enrolled in University College, Oxford. That year, Percy’s father published two of his son’s poetry compilations and two of his novels.

Percy attended Oxford for a few months before he was thrown out of the school. He and his roommate were accused of writing a pamphlet called “The Necessity of Atheism.” At the time, this would have been considered very bad and, as neither of them were admitting nor denying writing the pamphlet, they were expelled.

By this time in his life, Percy Bysshe Shelley was an atheist and a radical thinker. Timothy Shelley disapproved of his son’s beliefs very much and tried to get Percy to change his ways. However, Percy refused and later ran off with a coffee house owner’s daughter in August of 1811. The girl’s name was Harriet Westbrook and Percy married her. Timothy helped to provide for his son and his new wife, but he refused to speak to Percy anymore after that.

In 1812, the couple went to Ireland to promote Shelley’s political views. They were home by the following year when their first child, Ianthe was born. In 1814, the relationship came to an end when Percy fell in love with the daughter of William Godwin, the author of “Political Justice.”  The young lady who Percy fell in love with would one day become one of the most famous authors of all time.

Percy’s new love was named MaryGodwin and she was only sixteen years old when the two of them ran off together in July of 1814. Percy was still married to Harriet and she gave birth to a son named Charles in November of that year. Mary was pregnant at the time. In February of 1815, Mary gave birth to a daughter, who died just a few days after she was born. In January of 1816, she gave birth to a son named William. During the summer of that year, eighteen-year-old Mary began working on the novel “Frankenstein.”

Near the end of 1816, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s wife committed suicide by drowning. When her body was found in a river, it was discovered that she was pregnant, presumably by a man other than her husband. In December, Mary and Percy married and attempted to gain custody of Percy’s children by Harriet. However, on March 27, 1817 Shelley was found to be an unfit parent (largely due to his work) and his children were placed in foster care. In September of that year, the Shelleys had a daughter named Clara.

Two years later, both Clara and William died, the family moved to Italy and Percy and Mary had another son, who they named Percy Florence. The couple had many friends in Italy and it would seem that Percy had a few romantic interests there too. Unfortunately, his life was cut short while he was sailing from a visit with one of these friends. Percy became caught in a storm on the Mediterranean Sea and drowned on July 8, 1822. After his death, Mary edited and published some of his work for him.


Everett, Glenn, Shelley Biography, retrieved 9/23/09

Percy Bysshe Shelley, retrieved 9/23/09, 

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