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Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Percy Bysshe Shelley

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  1. Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792-1822

  2. Biography • Aristocratic up-bringing by conventional and old-fashioned baronet (as was the fictional Sir Walter Eliot in Persuasion). • Attends “public” school Eton (English public schools are American private schools) • Despises Eton’s bullying and emphasis on athletics. • Expelled from Oxford at 18 for publishing pamphlet “The Necessity of Atheism”– aggravates father. • Relies on 18th C philosopher David Hume for his arguments. Hume believes that one can only know via the senses—what cannot be seen is of necessity unknowable. • In 1810, elopes with Harriet Westbrook at 18 (she is 16); united by a mutual disdain for education and adult dictates. • The couple become wandering advocates for the oppressed, esp Irish Catholics living under British rule.

  3. . . . and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin • Shelley & Harriet separate; Shelley becomes part of William Godwin’s London circle of social radicals. Pays Godwin’s debts. • 1814 – Shelley meets Godwin’s daughter Mary, and “elopes” with her to France; Godwin is livid, despite his unconventional views on free love and marriage. Mary is 16. • 1815 – their first child in born prematurely and dies after 12 days. Mary becomes pregnant again and has a son William. • 1816 – Harriet Westbrook Shelley, pregnant by an unknown lover, drowns herself; Percy and Mary marry legally. • 1817 – Mary has a daughter, Clara. • 1818 – Mary publishes Frankenstein; both William and Clara die. • 1819 – Mary and Percy have a son, Percy, who survives both his parents. • 1820 – the Shelleys settle in Pisa, and gather a circle of English writers and thinkers around them, including Byron. • 1820 – Percy and Edward Williams drown in boating accident.

  4. Ideas associated with Shelley • David Hume, 18th C British philosopher and “empiricist” – one can only “know” anything that has come through the senses – importance of seeing over “being taught.” Empiricism does not reject the idea of God, simply argues that God is “unprovable.” • Idea that humans cannot be constrained by conventions – if one’s desires or loves are unconventional, so what? • Man and Nature – nature exists very separately from man – it need not reflect human qualities or values. One should study nature, but not to find oneself, rather on nature’s own terms. Contrast Wordsworth. • “Mirror and Lamp” – literature as a lamp

  5. Ozymandias (Greek name of Ramses II) • Read “Ozymandias” (1817) in terms of Napoleon. • Both very successful absolute rulers • Ramses the Great builds the largest temple in Egypt, with four 69 foot high statues of himself. • Napoleon builds Arc deTriomphe • Both military commanders – Ramses II extends Egyptian empire into modern-day Turkey and Syria • Both expect to begin a new world order that will last forever (Ramses II rules for 66 years! – in the 13th C BC) • Poem stresses the fleeting nature of military and political power.

  6. Octave of sonnet “Ozymandias” • Speaker recounts tale of traveler who describes broken statue of Ozymandias which traveler found in the desert. • Details of Ozymandias’ passions still captured by his statue • frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command • The sculptor’s hand “mocked” these passions by carving them, and the pharaoh’s heart “fed” these passions by indulging in them.

  7. Sestet of “Ozymandias” • Reader moves from statue itself to words on pedestal (from visual art to literary art) • My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! • What survives? • visual and literary art; the desert (symbolizing nature?) • What does not survive? • the military and political empire