Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives [NOOK Book]

Overview

Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective—celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism.

The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning journalist Leigh Hunt. They included Lord Byron, John Keats, and Mary Shelley,...

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Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron, and Other Tangled Lives

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Overview

Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective—celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism.

The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning journalist Leigh Hunt. They included Lord Byron, John Keats, and Mary Shelley, as well as a host of fascinating lesser-known figures: Mary Shelley’s stepsister and Byron’s mistress, Claire Clairmont; Hunt’s botanist sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kent; the musician Vincent Novello; the painters Benjamin Haydon and Joseph Severn; and writers such as Charles and Mary Lamb, Thomas Love Peacock, and William Hazlitt. They were characterized by talent, idealism, and youthful ardor, and these qualities shaped and informed their politically oppositional stances—as did their chaotic family arrangements, which often left the young women, despite their talents, facing the consequences of the men’s philosophies.

In Young Romantics, Daisy Hay follows the group’s exploits, from its inception in Hunt’s prison cell in 1813 to its disintegration after Shelley’s premature death in 1822. It is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and friendship, all of which were played out against a background of political turbulence and intense literary creativity.


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Editorial Reviews

Ben Downing
…[Hay] is a skilled and sure-­footed chronicler. In firm, clear, often elegant prose, she narrates the main events in the lives of her subjects…Moving swiftly and purposefully, her story has no longueurs whatsoever, nor even a single lurching transition; it represents a triumph of artful selection and synthesis. If you want to read a single book of modest length on the lives (less so the work) of the later Romantics, this might very well be the one.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Long before the lost generation or '60s rock poets, there was a 19th-century movable feast of interlinked English poets and thinkers that was even more fascinating and combustible. Cambridge Ph.D. Hay, in her first book, delves with scholarly relish into the unorthodox lifestyles and fluid (including quasi-incestuous and incestuous) households of several key figures: vegetarians Percy and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley; Mary Shelley's stepsister Jane, aka Claire Clairmont; Lord Byron; John Keats; and the little-read today but central revolutionary, Leigh Hunt. The key years are 1813 to 1822, effectively terminating with Shelley's drowning at sea not long after Keats's death from tuberculosis. New here is Claire's autobiographical fragment—archived in the New York Public Library—in which she rakes the libertarians Shelley and Byron, whose daughter she bore, over her emotional coals. Well handled is the so-called summer of Frankenstein, and how, over the nine years Hay chronicles, the boundaries of monogamy were pushed to the breaking point. Although Hay is passionate about her subject, her writing is unexceptional and monotone: she sticks to the descriptive rather than the analytic. 16 pages of b&w illus. (May 4)
Library Journal
The lives of the second generation of English Romantic writers—Leigh Hunt, Percy and Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Keats—are the stuff of melodramatic romance and legend: antiestablishment rebels; successions of wives, mistresses, and lovers; the struggle for recognition; exile; and early death. Following a broadly chronological movement, this debut by Hay shifts back and forth among the circles of friends and families of these writers, from the imprisonment of Hunt to the death of Shelley and its aftermath. While Hay breaks no new ground, Young Romantics is a vigorously written, well-informed, and popularizing page-turner. VERDICT The chief limitation of the book—a problem that hampers a number of recent literary biographies—is that it focuses on the human dimensions of the poets rather than the greatness of their poetry. It is accessible, however, and highly recommended for the general reader interested in the lives behind the poems but less so for the specialist.—T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah
Kirkus Reviews
A prosopography of Keats, Shelley, Byron and others. Successful biographers must balance density of detail with narrative flow. Cambridge-educated Hay adds the further challenge of documenting not one life, but those of several friends and acquaintances within the admittedly narrow social milieu of the so-called "Young Romantics." Her thesis concerns the impact of a close circle of friends upon the work that these young talents produced. True to the group's reputation, their lives involved enough wild abandon, steamy liaisons, elopements, intrigue, incest, love triangles, illegitimate children and passionate death to fill the pages of several novels. Though familiar and less-familiar characters move in and out of the chronological narrative, Hay spends the most time on the exploits of Shelley and Mary Godwin, whom the reckless poet whisked away in scandal while he was still married to another woman, and their entourage. This approach suggests that an artist's leisure-class coterie-particularly in the early 19th century, when sociability was discussed and pursued as an art in itself-influenced, nurtured and challenged his or her work in significant ways. The author devotes few pages to analyses of the individual works; instead, she weaves a complex background of what was going on when many of these works were written and how those personal events worked their way into the poetry. Some of Shelley's most beloved poems, for instance, weren't penned on a bleak promontory but during spirited sonnet contests with his quill-wielding cronies. Though marketed to a general readership, the book hardly seems suitable for anyone but avid readers of literary history or students of Romantic poetry. For that audience, though, Hay offers an engaging model for biographical study, enabling heretofore unacknowledged players in the drama of the Young Romantic poets' lives to have their say. Intelligent and intricate, though occasionally dull.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429946087
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,273,261
  • File size: 446 KB

Meet the Author



Daisy Hay recently completed a doctorate in English literature at Cambridge. She lives in London. Young Romantics is her first book.

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