Works Pertaining to Harriet Shelley
An Annotated Bibliography
by John Lauritsen

James Bieri, Per
cy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography, Vol. I: Youth's Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816, 2004. Vol. II: Exile of Unfulfilled Renown, 1816-1822, 2005.
    Although Bieri's biography has new information, it contains many mistakes, poor generalizations, and gross speculations. Much of it reads like cribs from secondary sources.
    Bieri's background is in clinical psychology, and from time to time he indulges in crass psychologizing, giving the impression that Shelley and his wife and friends were all in need of psychotherapy. An example of Bieri's psychobabble: “Harriet's underlying depressiveness was combined with obsessive-compulsive behavior that perhaps had a schizoid quality.”
    Bieri's ignorance of facts and social-stratification theory are shown in his statement: “Timothy was irate. Not only had his son not confided in him about his plans, this was a mésalliance. A tavern-keeper's daughter was not an appropriate wife for a Shelley who was to inherit a baronetcy.” (For a rebuttal of this statement, see my essay, “Harriet Shelley: Wife of the Poet”.)  

Edmund Blunden, Shelley: A Life Story, 1946.
    The best short biography of Shelley. Blunden brings a poet's understanding to Shelley's life and poetry. He is sympathetic to Harriet Shelley:

    Few perhaps who look into Shelley's life would not wish to solve the problem of Harriet and her final tribulations.... I did not set out to write a life of Harriet Shelley but of an English poet. Yet all that has been imparted concerning Harriet awakens an intense admiration for her and a desire, which does not diminish our love of Shelley, to honour her memory....

    Blunden places blame for the breakup of Shelley's first marriage squarely on William Godwin:

    I believe that their [Shelley's & Harriet's] main difference is summed in the name Godwin, whose extraction of large sums from Shelley with constantly painful effects on Shelley's life and circumstances might make any wife miserable and draw well-meant protests from her....

    Like Mark Twain, Blunden traces the anti-Harriet slanders back to the Godwins:

    Harriet's notion that after all Godwin was her greatest enemy would have deepened had she foreseen how he would treat her memory. In January, 1817, he “had evidence” that she was unfaithful to Shelley; he worked out a date; in May he had “unquestionable authority” and sent the story round.... What was Shelley's opinion? ... Nothing written by Shelley about his first marriage hints at this; the few direct confidences of his from the year 1814 ascribe his leaving Harriet to other causes altogether; and his record of his intimate life before and during his courtship of Mary, written in 1815 to Hogg, says nothing of Harriet's being in the least inclined to love any one else.

Louise Schutz Boas, Harriet Shelley: Five Long Years, 1962.
    The only biography of Harriet Shelley, well researched and written.

Kenneth Neill Cameron (editor), Shelley and his Circle: 1773-1822, Volume II, 1961.
    Cameron's chapter, “The Last Days of Harriet Shelley”, contains valuable information on the social standing of the Westbrooks and the death of Harriet Shelley. This information is analyzed in my essay, “Harriet Shelley: Wife of the Poet”. To read it click here

Dowden, Edward, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 2 vols., 1886.
    The first full-scale Shelley biography. Dowden's hypocrisy and affectations are fairly and forcefully denounced by Mark Train in his essay, “In Defense of Harriet Shelley”

R.S. Garnett (editor), Letters about Shelley: interchanged by three friends — Edward Dowden, Richard Garnett and Wm. Michael Rossetti, 1917.
    The editor of this book, R.S Garnett, was the eldest son of Richard Garnett, the confederate of Jane, Lady Shelley (hereafter Lady Shelley). The book's bias against Harriet is shown in such things as the Index, where Shelley's second wife is listed as “Shelley, Mary”, but the poet's first wife, the mother of his only lawful and living descendants, is listed by her maiden name: “Westbrook, Harriet”.
    In these letters Richard Garnett plays Iago to Edward Dowden, planting anti-Harriet slanders in his head, claiming that Harriet was a coarse person from a low background, and insinuating that if Dowden wanted to stay in the good graces of Sir Percy and Lady Shelley, he had better play along. In her biography of Harriet Shelley, Louise Boas comments on these letters:

    That she [Lady Shelley] burned papers and letters concerned with the separation from Harriet, Dowden knew. He fought with his conscience but gradually yielded to Lady Shelley's coadjutor, Richard Garnett. The letters between these two gentlemen trying to be gentlemanly in their denigration of Harriet make an amusing study in self-justification, Victorian smugness, and determined prejudice.

Thomas Jefferson Hogg, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1858.
    Written by Shelley's closest friend, this brilliant if quirky biography is essential reading — in its entirety, not just the snippets appropriated by biographers. Hogg's loving and sometimes humorous descriptions of Percy Bysshe and Harriet Shelley are unforgettable. For Hogg on Harriet Shelley click here.

Richard Holmes, Shelley: The Pursuit, 1975.
    Despite shortcomings, this is the best of the full-scale Shelley biographies.

John Cordy Jeaffreson, The Real Shelley: New Views of the Poet's Life, 2 vols., 1885.
    A brilliant attack on the Shelley Legend: the lies and slanders fabricated by William Godwin, Mary Shelley, Lady Shelley, and their accomplices. Jeaffreson is overly harsh on Shelley, but sympathetic to Harriet. To read his eloquent tribute to her click here

Ernest J. Lovell, Jr; Captain Medwin: Friend of Byron and Shelley; 1962.
    An excellent biography of Thomas Medwin, a cousin and life-long friend of Shelley's. Medwin was Shelley's first biographer and a fine classical scholar. Lovell rises to the defence of a man who has been treated unfairly, even viciously, by biographers. Mary Shelley resented Medwin because he and Shelley would go off to study Arabic or work on translations together, or in her presence would discuss topics beyond her understanding. She later spread the false and absurd rumor that Medwin had tried to blackmail her.

Denis Florence Mac-Carthy, Shelley's Early Life, From Original Sources, with curious incidents, letters, and writings, now first published or collected, 1873.
    An odd book, which obsessively attacks Thomas Jefferson Hogg. However, Mac-Carthy is sympathetic to Harriet, quoting her letters at length. See Harriet's Letters

H.J. Massingham, The Friend of Shelley: A Memoir of Edward John Trelawny, 1930.    
    A very readable biography of a man who wrote two masterpieces of English Romanticism: his quasi-autobiographical novel, Adventures of a Younger Son (1831), and his Recollections of Shelley and Byron (1858). Massingham shows that Trelawny's criticisms of Mary Shelley, made in his Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author (1878), were fair and reasonable.

Thomas Medwin, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1847; New, expanded edition edited by H. Buxton Forman, 1913.
    The first biography of Shelley, written by a cousin and life-long friend. Medwin made mistakes, but he succeeds in bringing Shelley to life. Some of Shelley's works would never have seen the light of day, had it not been for Medwin.

Thomas Love Peacock, Memoirs of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1858-1862.
    As with Hogg, this is essential reading in its entirety, not just the snippets excerpted by biographers. Peacock gives a loving description, and a rousing defence, of Harriet Shelley. For Peacock on Harriet Shelley click here.

Walter Edwin Peck, Shelley: His Life and Work. Volume I: 1792-1817. Volume II: 1817-1822, 1927.
    In general, a good book. Peck discusses Shelley's poetry sympathetically and at length. However, he is sometimes taken in by the Shelley Legend fabricated by Mary and Lady Shelley — for example, he uncritically accepts their “misalliance” smear. 
    In commenting on Harriet's letter to Catherine Nugent (which blames Mary Godwin for Shelley's desertion), Peck makes the point that Shelley himself had told Harriet the damaging story:

    Undoubtedly this version of those stolen meetings is a less favorable one than that usually found in Lives of the poet whom we are now studying; but from these biographies it has been ruled out, perhaps because it includes the testimony of Shelley against the woman with whom he spent eight long years of his life; testimony communicated to the woman to whom at the time of writing he was bound by the bonds of lawful wedlock and by their three years' life together.

    Peck defends Harriet, with quotes from Trelawny and Peacock, and indirectly criticizes Lady Shelley. He writes: “It has been necessary to spend so much time in analyzing Shelley's relations with Harriet, because grave injustice has been done by one chronicler after another to the memory of Shelley's first wife.” Peck swallows the line that Mary's intellectual superiority was the reason for Shelley's desertion (although Harriet was a better educated woman and also, from a comparison of their letters, a better writer). He concedes that Harriet was warmer and more beautiful.
    Peck is highly critical of William Godwin, and shows that his demands on Shelley amounted to extortion. He includes as an appendix, Francis Place's “Account of William Godwin and Shelley”, which includes the following:

    As respected his own purposes, Godwin was one of the most heartless, the most callous of men. He was perfectly regardless of the mischief he might bring upon anyone and quite as regardless of the feelings of others. When his own ends could be best and most promptly answered by inflicting unhappiness on them, these matters annoyed him so little that I have sometimes doubted, whether they did not even afford him satisfaction, when they fell upon those who had not readily conformed to his wishes.

Winifred Scott, Jefferson Hogg: Shelley's Biographer, London 1951.
    A fine biography of Shelley's oldest and most faithful friend. Like other close friends of Shelley, Hogg has been treated unfairly by the standard biographers, those led down the garden path by Mary and Lady Shelley.

Miranda Seymour, Mary Shelley, London 2000.
    A few mistakes, but the best of the Mary Shelley biographies. Seymour shows that Mary was prone to dishonesty, and does not hesitate to call her a “hack writer”.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Esdaile Notebook: A Volume of Early Poems, Kenneth Neill Cameron, Editor, Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr., Foreword. New York 1964.
    The Esdaile Notebook contains the only major body of unpublished poetry by Shelley (as of 1964). It was in the hands of Shelley's descendants until 1962, when it was acquired by the Carl H. Pforzheimer Library.

        p. viii  [Foreword by Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr.]  All my contacts with the Worrall family have been most stimulating and friendly, one particularly happy result being the acquisition by The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library, from these direct descendants of the poet, of the three letters written by the nine-year-old son of the poet in 1823-4 to his older sister Ianthe. There also has been acquired directly from the family such memorabilia as Shelley's baby shirt, christening robe, silver whistle and rattle with a ring handle (clearly indicating that even the infancy of one Percy Bysshe Shelley was not immune to the excruciating need for solace while teething). All of these items were presumably given by Shelley's mother to Harriet on the birth of Ianthe. More intimately related to the background of this volume was the acquisition — also from the Worrall family — of the beautiful, gem-studded ring which Harriet received from the youthful poet. [An important point here is that Shelley's mother did accept Harriet, probably visited her, and would have welcomed her at Field Place if Shelley himself had been less intransigent politically. — JL]

        p. 10  [Introduction by Neill Cameron]  The decisive year in Shelley's life was 1811, the year in which he was expelled from Oxford (in March) and in which he eloped with Harriet Westbrook (in August) and was driven from the ranks of upper-class society to be turned into a confirmed and persecuted rebel.[Comment: Cameron has been taken in by the Mary Shelley/Lady Shelley falsehoods. If Shelley “was driven from the ranks of upper-class society”, it was not from having married Harriet, whose background was only slightly below his own. For a further discussion of Harriet's social standing, see my essay, “Harriet Shelley: Wife of the Poet” — JL] 

        p. 85  Shelley's poem, “To Harriet”:   
        Nor when some years have added judgment's store
        To all thy woman sweetness, all the fire
        Which throbs in thine enthusiast heart, nor then
        Shall holy friendship (for what other name
        May love like ours assume?) not even then
        Shall custom so corrupt, or the cold forms
        Of this desolate world so harden us
        As when we think of the dear love that binds
        Our souls in soft communion....

Robert Metcalf Smith, The Shelley Legend, 1945.
    Rather rough, but essential for its thesis, that Mary Shelley and her daughter-in-law, Jane, Lady Shelley, fabricated a myth: “the fraudulent and mistaken efforts to turn the romantic, pagan Shelley, as Hogg, Peacock, and Trelawny knew him in the flesh, into a Victorian angel suitable for enshrinement among the gods of respectability and convention.” Smith demonstrates that the defamation of Harriet Shelley derives from forged letters and slanders spread by William Godwin, Mary Shelley, and Lady Shelley.

William St. Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys: A biography of a family, 1989.
    St. Clair describes the massive destruction of manuscripts, letters, etc. — especially everything pertaining to Harriet Shelley — carried out by Lady Shelley and her accomplice, Richard Garnett. Presumably, given Lady Shelley's loyalties, any materials favorable to Harriet, or unfavorable to Mary, went into the fire.

Emily W. Sunstein, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality, 1989.
    Against heavy competition, this may be the worst of the Mary Shelley biographies. Like an over-zealous and unprincipled defence lawyer, Sunstein not only defends Mary at every turn, but attacks everyone who ever crossed her path, especially including Shelley's good friends, Trelawny, Medwin and Hogg.
    Sunstein's treatment of Harriet Shelley is particularly objectionable; not only does she swallow the slanders spread by William Godwin, Mary and Lady Shelley 
hook, line and sinker  but she embellishes on them. Nothing in this shoddy book should be believed without verification. Sunstein just makes things up as she goes along, failing to distinguish between facts and her own silly fantasies.

Edward John Trelawny, Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author, 1878.
    Writing in his mid-eighties, Trelawny comes to the defence of Harriet Shelley:

    I was assured by the evidence of the few friends who knew both Shelley and his wife — Hookham, who kept the great library in Bond Street, Jefferson Hogg, Peacock, and one of the Godwins — that Harriet was perfectly innocent of all offense.

Newman Ivey White, Shelley, Two volumes, 1940.
    Despite numerous errors of fact and lapses in judgment, this is still highly regarded. White stands up for Harriet in a number of places: for example, he refutes the notion that she was unintelligent. He explicitly argues against Dowden, who claimed that Harriet “assumed an attitude of hard alienation towards her husband” and separated from him of her own accord. However, he accepts at face value Peacock's statement that Mary was intellectually more suited to Shelley than Harriet, and that this was the main reason for the breakup and “elopement”.
    White quotes all of Harriet's alleged “suicide” letter, but seems unaware of the problems regarding its authenticity. He uncritically accepts a forged Shelley letter (“[Harriet] descended the steps of prostitution...”) as genuine, but argues against the substance of it.

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