PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY by Stephen C. Behrendt, ed., Reviewed by Stuart Curran

Ed. Stephen C. Behrendt
(Longman, 2009)
Reviewed by Stuart Curran on 2009-09-25.

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Stephen Behrendt's selection of Shelley for the Longman Cultural Editions takes advantage of the determination of that series of textbooks to fill out the contexts within which an author's major writings subsist. It also enlarges the category of the familiar, particularly in the realm of Shelley's political writings, which are emphasized throughout. For instance, his rhetorically powerful "Address to the People on the Death of the Princess Charlotte" (1817) with its daring slipping to a dirge for Liberty at the end, is juxtaposed with a fawning newspaper tribute to her and accounts of the public execution --on the day of her death-- of defiant Derbyshire laborers accused of high treason. Likewise, a generous selection of Shelley's political poems of 1819 is set against newspaper reportage of the Manchester massacre and radical pamphlets memorializing its victims. Behrendt's brief introductions to the sections and to Shelley's individual writings are clear and concise, and they constitute valuable guideposts to his readers. Occasionally, especially with Prometheus Unbound, which is represented in full, the sparseness of annotation may make some inexperienced readers of poetry feel undernourished. On the other hand, the emphasis on Shelley's political and satirical voices should give readers of his less immediately approachable writing a sense that he is as human and contemporary in his concerns as they are. And his occasional expression of self-pity (shared, if not necessarily acknowledged, by his late-adolescent readers) are, in a closing section, illuminated by the savagery with which his masterpieces were excoriated by the contemporary press. All in all, this volume represents Shelley on the opposite end of the spectrum from Arnold's "ineffectual angel," as an ambitious writer of ranging abilities who exists in the realm of the real and the quotidian and who is easily approachable.

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