"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010
In Defence of Harriet Shelley by Mark Twain
Before reading this brilliant essay you must be familiar with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a 19th century English poet and perhaps, nowadays, most famous for being married to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. His most famous bit of poetry in modern times is: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Before reading this essay, read a short online biography about Mr. Shelley so that you can follow along with some knowledge of the basics. Twain's essay is actually a long review of a biography of Shelley by Edward Dowden: Life of Shelley, a book that is extremely dismissive of Harriet Shelley, Percy Shelley's first wife - the one he left pregnant and with a child at home so that he could run away to Europe with Mary.
In no way is Twain's essay fair towards Percy Shelley - it does not try to be and I do not think that it should be. It's hard to defend a man who leaves his pregnant wife for a teenage girl. Twain rips this section of the biography apart bit by bit. Twain's sarcastic bite is on full display here - commentary that is very often laugh out loud funny and very tender towards Harriet Shelley.
5 stars out of a possible 5 stars.
This book essay can be found on Amazon.com here: In Defence of Harriet Shelley
Reviewed July 13, 2010.