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Shelley, Percy Bysshe

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1792-1822) UK playwright, poet and author whose importance to the development of science fiction (see Proto SF) in the early nineteenth century is tangential to the main drift of his work as a poet; he was, along with Lord Byron and John Keats (1795-1821), one of the central figures of the second wave of British Romantic poetry. Some of his fiction is of interest in the ideational and literary tumult of the era: Zastrozzi: A Romance (1810), which features a giant proto-Promethean rebel, and St Irvyne; Or, the Rosicrucian: A Romance (1811), whose Antihero protagonist harbours the secret of Immortality, are exorbitant examples of Gothic fiction at its fevered height [for Rosicrucianism see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Thomas Love Peacock, a close friend, Parodied him affectionately as the deluded gothical dreamer Scythrop Glowry in Nightmare Abbey (1818). The title closet drama which occupies most of Prometheus Unbound: A Lyric Drama in Four Acts with Other Poems (coll 1820) (see Poetry) translates by stages an elaborate recounting of the myth of Prometheus into a parable of the emancipation of Man in the Near Future: the poem ends with the Hero Prometheus triumphant – Shelley's first draft was begun in 1818, just as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818 3vols) first appeared – and the planet awash in Peace.

The subtitle of his wife Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818; rev 1831) is a clear reference to Shelley's vision of a revolutionary figure. His presence at the Villa Diodati, during the famous Club Story evening in the Year Without Summer of 1816, was of contributory importance to the novel, though he himself wrote no story of his own; the extent of his revisions to the manuscript of Frankenstein has been exaggerated. One of his most famous poems – usually referred to as "Ozymandias" though its actual title is "On a Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below" (11 January 1818 The Examiner) – is a touchstone text for registering the ongoing transformation in Western European perceptions of time and history (see Ruins and Futurity). [JC]

Percy Bysshe Shelley

born Horsham, Sussex [now West Sussex]: 4 August 1792

died Lerici, Italy: 8 July 1822 [by drowning]

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