Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Background Information

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Percy Bysshe Shelley was brought up in a privileged, wealthy, and conservative household near Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, England. He was born on August 4, 1792 the oldest of six children, one brother and four sisters and was set to inherit his grandfather’s estate.Also, he was in line for a seat in Parliament. He was radical in all aspects of his life and thoughts. He attended school at Eton starting in 1804 for six years then continued his education at Oxford, where he began his long journey of writing poetry during the Romantic Era of literature. In 1810 he published his first novel called Zastrozzi, which was a Gothic themed novel. In this novel, Percy made his rather atheistic views clearer through a villain of the book who was named Zastrozzi. The same year that he published Zastrozzi, he teamed up with Thomas Jefferson Hoggs, who was another student and they published a pamphlet called “Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson.” The same year he published another piece of work with his sister called “Original Poetry; by Victor and Cazire.” Shelley quickly began his writing career with these multiple pieces of text in a short period of time.

As a young boy, Percy was unskilled in sports and fighting, which led him to being bullied by the older and stronger boys. As a result he dedicated his life to a war against injustice and oppression. At Oxford in the Fall of 1810, he wrote another collaboration with his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg called “The Necessity of Atheism,” which led to his being expelled from Oxford and having distance in his relationship with his father. The pamphlet caused a stir of emotions during this time period. If Shelley wanted to be enrolled in Oxford again, his father would have intervened. However, in order for his father to agree to help Shelley, he had to say that he was a devoted Christian, which is something Shelley did not want to do. Therefore, all ties between Shelley and his father were broken.

At nineteen, Shelley eloped with the sixteen-year old Harriet Westbrook. After they got married, Shelley became her protector from her father. It was was common at the time that once a man married a woman, he basically became her owner. Together they moved to the Lake District in England where Shelley continued his career and studies of writing. In November of 1814, his wife Harriet had their first son. Shortly after, Shelley began a relationship with Mary Godwin and they got married in 1814. Godwin was the daughter of the British philosopher William Godwin. Together Godwin and Shelley had their own child in February of 1815, but unfortunately the child died two weeks after his birth. Then, in January of 1816, Mary had another son and they named him William. Shelley and Godwin moved to Lake Geneva where Shelley spent a great deal of time discussing poetry with other writers such as George Gordon and Lord Byron. Then apparently in December of 1816, Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, committed suicide. Her body was found in a lake. Since Harriet was dead, Shelley and Godwin could officially be married a short time later. Due to Shelley’s open opinion on free love, he lost custody of his children with Harriet.

By now it is clear that Shelley does not agree with religion. He wrote many pieces of the text that went against the ideals of a typical Christian. Laon and Cythna was one of his texts that were published, but because of his attacks on religion only a few copies were actually published. In 1818 Laon and Cythna was edited and again published as The Revolt of Islam. In the last few years of Shelley’s life he produced his best known pieces of work such as “Prometheus Unbound.” In addition, he wrote Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and Mont Blanc after day activities spent with friend, Lord Byron. Shelley also became friends with John Keats and Leigh Hunt when Godwin and himself moved to Marlow. Shelley’s experiences with Leigh Hunt and John Keats lead him to pursue his own literary goals.

He and Mary moved away from England during the last few years of his life. They traveled around many different cities of Italy. On July 8, 1822, right before he turned thirty years old, Shelley drowned in Italy when he was trying to sail his boat, the Don Juan.

Shelley’s Works

Click on one of the links below to learn more about the following works:


Mont Blanc
To a Sky-Lark
Ode to the West Wind
Hymn to Intellectual Beauty

Works Cited:
Information: Norton Anthology: Eighth Edition: Volume 2. Website: website: poets: Percy Bysshe Shelley

Interesting Shelley Links: