Brush up your Byron

When A Treacherous Likeness was first published I put together a quiz on the young Romantics for the Spectator. Byron may have been mad, bad and dangerous to know, but how’s your knowledge of the rest of the Young Romantics? Are you a connoisseur of Keats, or a specialist on Shelley? Take this light-hearted quiz toContinue reading “Brush up your Byron”

What if Byron and the Shelleys had live tweeted from the Villa Diodati?

It’s one of the most famous – indeed infamous – episodes in English literary history. In the summer of 1816 Lord Byron took a villa on the banks of Lake Geneva. He was attended by his doctor, John William Polidori, and another nearby house was rented by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, with whomContinue reading “What if Byron and the Shelleys had live tweeted from the Villa Diodati?”

Frankenstein: Mary, monster, myth

“When I placed my head upon the pillow, I did not sleep…. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me…. I saw – with shut eyes but acute mental vision – I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretchedContinue reading “Frankenstein: Mary, monster, myth”

It was a dark and stormy night: The strange story of ‘Shelley’s Ghost’

The episode that would later come to be referred to as ‘Shelley’s Ghost’ took place on 26th February 1813, in the midst of a raging storm, when the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was staying at a house called Tan-yr-allt, in Tremadoc on the coast of North Wales. What really happened that night remains a mystery,Continue reading “It was a dark and stormy night: The strange story of ‘Shelley’s Ghost’”

‘Full fathom five the poet lies’: The death of Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley died on 8th July 1822, at the age of 29, when his boat went down in a sudden storm off the coast of the Gulf of Spezia. A dreadful death, dreadfully young, but was it really just a tragic accident, or something far darker and more disturbing? Shelley andContinue reading “‘Full fathom five the poet lies’: The death of Percy Bysshe Shelley”

Bringing the Shelleys back to life

A Treacherous Likeness is a fictional recreation of the lives of the Shelleys – the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who drowned at the age of 29, and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein. Anyone who resurrects real people in fiction faces some complex challenges, both technical and, if you like, ‘ethical’, but when your subjects areContinue reading “Bringing the Shelleys back to life”

‘This fatal catastrophe’: The sad life and strange death of Harriet Shelley

Early in the morning of 10th December 1816 a man called John Levesley, a pensioner of the Chelsea Hospital, was making his way to Kensington across Hyde Park when he saw something floating in the waters of the Serpentine. It was the body of a young woman. It looked, he later told the inquest, asContinue reading “‘This fatal catastrophe’: The sad life and strange death of Harriet Shelley”

“The obscure parts of my own nature”: Did Percy Bysshe Shelley suffer from a personality disorder?

You don’t need to know very much about the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley to be aware that he was not just a poetic genius but a dark, tormented and turbulent young man. He left wreckage in his wake and (knowingly or not) caused immense pain to those around him, especially the women who lovedContinue reading ““The obscure parts of my own nature”: Did Percy Bysshe Shelley suffer from a personality disorder?”

Fictionalising 1816: The suicide of Fanny Imlay

The lives of the Shelleys are incredibly rich material for a novelist. There’s so much we simply don’t know. From what Richard Holmes calls the “two great biographical mysteries” of the assassination attempt in Tremadoc in 1813 and the Shelleys’ adoption and abandonment of a baby in Naples in 1819, to the relationship between Shelley and ClaireContinue reading “Fictionalising 1816: The suicide of Fanny Imlay”

Fictionalising 1816: The death of Harriet Shelley

The Shelleys and their circle have inspired hundreds of books, plays and films over the last two centuries, and there have been many accounts of that famous summer they spent together in 1816, when Frankenstein was conceived. But all the same there remain many inexplicable gaps and strange silences, where the biographers can offer usContinue reading “Fictionalising 1816: The death of Harriet Shelley”

Was Mary Shelley a feminist?

You’d think so, wouldn’t you. A woman whose father was a radical philosopher who believed in the equality of the sexes, and whose mother was a pioneering vindicator of women’s rights. How could the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin not be every inch the feminist her parents would have wanted her to be?Continue reading “Was Mary Shelley a feminist?”

The haunting of Percy Bysshe Shelley

This fiend, whose ghastly presence everBeside thee like thy shadow hangs… Percy Bysshe Shelley was many things: a poet, a political radical and pamphleteer, a philosophical thinker, and a faithless husband. He was also – and this may come as a surprise – obsessed with the occult, and this fixation with spirits, demons, and darkContinue reading “The haunting of Percy Bysshe Shelley”

A very ‘Romantic’ Rome: following the Shelleys’ travels in Italy

When I was asked to write a piece on places associated with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary, I was really rather spoilt for choice. Did I opt for Lake Geneva, where they spent that fateful summer with Byron and Frankenstein was born? Or the Ligurian coast, where Shelley drowned in a stormContinue reading “A very ‘Romantic’ Rome: following the Shelleys’ travels in Italy”

Dead poets’ notoriety: Fictionalising Byron and the Shelleys

‘Tis strange,—but true; for truth is always strange;Stranger than fiction; if it could be told,How much would novels gain by the exchange!How differently the world would men behold!                                   Don Juan, Canto XIV Nowhere is truth stranger, in fact, than in aspects of Byron’s own life, not least that famous – or infamous – summer ofContinue reading “Dead poets’ notoriety: Fictionalising Byron and the Shelleys”