SHELLEY AND HIS WORLD by Claire Tomalin

SHELLEY AND HIS WORLD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The auspicious latest in a pleasant, if uneven, series. Tomalin, a journalist, broadcaster, and literary editor of the London Sunday Times, did a good biography of Mary Wollstonecraft (1974), and in general has just the fight qualifications for this sort of popular-but-serious study. Shelley was a complex and often exasperating person, and it's not easy to do him justice. Tomalin manages to balance her sympathy for Shelley's radical republicanism and visionary sexual ethics with mordant realism concerning his indestructible--but sometimes quite destructive--innocence. In discussing, for instance, his tragic two-year marriage to Harriet Westbrook, Tomalin evenhandedly weighs Shelley's impatience with a sweet but rather limited woman against his wife's despair and eventual suicide; and while she admits that Shelley first reacted to news of Harriet's drowning with ""hysterical insistence on self-justification,"" she notes that this gave way to a much less shrill and more humane grief. Similarly, in explicating Epipsychidion, Tomalin treats Shelley's ""fantasy of a guiltless eroticism tied to a better social system"" with measured admiration, deftly pointing up the strain (in both the poem and the poet's life) between idealistic love and autonomous passion. Tomalin hardly has the time in so short a book for more than a hasty, impressionistic survey of Shelley's art, but her assessments are clear and well-informed. The many illustrations (104 black-and-white drawings, paintings, lithographs, etc.) aptly convey a sense of the varied landscapes--physical, political, and personal--that Shelley sped through in his turbulent career. A handsome, thoroughly professional job.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Scribners