Shelley’s Living Artistry: Letters, Poems, Plays

Madeleine Callaghan

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ISBN: 9781786940247

Publication: June 6, 2017

Series: Liverpool English Texts and Studies 69

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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.

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

Introduction: ‘A poem is the very image of life’
Standard Abbreviations and Note on Texts

1. ‘Painted fancy’s unsuspected scope’: The Esdaile Notebook, Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, and Queen Mab
2. ‘These transient meetings’: Alastor and Laon and Cythna
3. ‘All that is majestic’: The Scrope Davies Notebook
4. ‘That such a man should be such a poet!’: ‘To Wordsworth’, ‘Verses Written on Receiving a Celandine in a Letter from England’, and Julian and Maddalo
5. ‘In a style very different’: Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci
6. ‘The sacred talisman of language’: The Witch of Atlas and A Defence of Poetry
7. ‘One is always in love with something or other’: Epipsychidion and the Jane Poems
8. ‘The right road to Paradise’: Adonais and The Triumph of Life


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


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


Format: Hardback

Size: 239 × 163 mm

296 Pages

ISBN: 9781786940247

Publication: June 6, 2017

Series: Liverpool English Texts and Studies 69

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