Shelley’s Living Artistry: Letters, Poems, Plays

BookShelley’s Living Artistry: Letters, Poems, Plays

Shelley’s Living Artistry: Letters, Poems, Plays

Liverpool English Texts and Studies, 69


June 6th, 2017

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This study of the poetry and drama of Percy Bysshe Shelley reads the letters and their biographical contexts to shed light on the poetry, tracing the ambiguous and shifting relationship between the poet’s art and life. For Shelley, both life and art are transfigured by their relationship with one another where the ‘poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one’ but is equally bound up with and formed by the society in which he lives and the past that he inherits. Callaghan shows that the distinctiveness of Shelley’s work comes to rest on its wrong-footing of any neat division of life and art. The dazzling intensity of Shelley’s poetry and drama lies in its refusal to separate the twain as Shelley explores and finally explodes the boundaries between what is personal and what is poetic. Arguing that the critic, like the artist, cannot ignore the conditions of the poet’s life, Callaghan reveals how Shelley’s artistry reconfigures and redraws the actual in his poetry. The book shows how Shelley’s poetic daring lies in troubling the distinction between poetry as aesthetic work hermetically sealed against life, and poetry as a record of the emotional life of the poet.

'Callaghan reads Shelley’s letters and their biographical concerns to illuminate his poetry, tracing the shifting relationship between the poet’s poetry and life. She shows that Shelley refused and exploded the boundaries between the personal and poetic by reconfiguring life events within his poetry and drama. The boundary between the poet’s life and art is a difficult one for a critic and often less useful than close textual analysis. Callaghan makes a case for the ways in which Shelley transmutes the personal into transformative poetry with Shelley’s understanding that ‘the poet man are of two different natures’ and that the ‘poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth’, where truth and eternity clash.'
Tears in the Fence

'Callaghan is a confident judge and writer … an able close reader, whose readings are equally adept at handling the discursive tenor of Shelley’s often philosophically involved poetry and the intricacies of his metrical and stanzaic patterning, and a diligent scholar with an impressive command of the secondary literature on Shelley’s work. She is clearly unafraid of overturning critical commonplaces that have become established in Shelley studies and, moreover, she makes a compelling case for taking the early poetry more seriously on artistic terms than it has been so far. Shelley’s Living Artistry will make study of his correspondence much more central to future accounts of his work. Shelley’s Living Artistry is, then, a notable contribution to contemporary study of Shelley and, in particular, provides a useful reminder of the different genres and modes in which he wrote and the often taut relations between them.'
Ross Wilson, Cambridge Quarterly

‘A valuable, ranging and deeply informed contribution…to any reader sympathetic to neo-formalism, and indeed any reader sympathetic to Shelley (who can be as frustrating a poet as a brilliantly incandescent one), this study will repay attention.’
Christopher Stokes, The BARS Review

‘In Shelley’s Living Artistry: Letters, Poems, Plays, Madeleine Callaghan offers a stimulating and absorbing account of the way that Shelley self-consciously stages his artistic development in his poetry and his efforts to "[transmute] the dross of the personal into the gold of art"...In short, Shelley’s Living Artistry makes a convincing case for reading Shelley’s poetry "through the lens of the letters" so as to bring into focus important aspects of his artistry and develop "a fuller consideration of Shelley’s poetic achievement".’
Jonathan Quayle, English: Journal of the English Association

‘Shelley’s art, in Callaghan’s monograph, is living. It is not something that has been created or recreated, but rather like the statue of Hermione in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, needs only to be touched to feel its living warmth.’
Dana Van Kooy, European Romantic Review

'This is a compellingly argued book, and it represents a serious and substantial addition to Shelley scholarship. What is particularly refreshing, however, is that Callaghan is not simply an expert scholarly reader of Shelley. She quite clearly loves his poetry and is not afraid to say so, or to reach for superlatives when only superlatives will do. It is this passion for the poetry and for understanding the depths of Shelley’s artistry that drives her close reading and animates her account of individual texts. Surely a poet as attuned to the revolutionary potential of reading as was Shelley would be pleased to have found such a reader.'
Daisy Hay, Keats-Shelley Journal

Author Information

Madeleine Callaghan is Senior Lecturer in Romantic Literature at the University of Sheffield.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Introduction: ‘A poem is the very image of life’9
Standard Abbreviations and Note on Texts19
1. ‘Painted fancy’s unsuspected scope’21
2. ‘These transient meetings’53
3. ‘All that is majestic’85
4. ‘That such a man should be such a poet!’119
5. ‘In a style very different’152
6. ‘The sacred talisman of language’180
7. ‘One is always in love with something or other’209
8. ‘The right road to Paradise’244