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In Defence of Harriet Shelley

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1406951714
ISBN-10: 1406951714
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About the Author

Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was an American humorist and writer, who is best known for his enduring novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which has been called the Great American Novel. Raised in Hannibal, Missouri, Twain held a variety of jobs including typesetter, riverboat pilot, and miner before achieving nationwide attention for his work as a journalist with The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. He earned critical and popular praise for his wit and enjoyed a successful career as a public speaker in addition to his writing. Twain s works were remarkable for his ability to capture colloquial speech, although his adherence to the vernacular of the time has resulted in the suppression of his works by schools in modern times. Twain s birth in 1835 coincided with a visit by Halley s Comet, and Twain predicted, accurately, that he would go out with it as well, dying the day following the comet s return in 1910. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Hard Press (November 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1406951714
  • ISBN-13: 978-1406951714
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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By DWD's Reviews VINE VOICE on July 13, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Before reading this brilliant essay you must be familiar with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a 19th century English poet and perhaps, nowadays, most famous for being married to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. His most famous bit of poetry in modern times is: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Before reading this essay, read a short online biography about Mr. Shelley so that you can follow along with some knowledge of the basics. Twain's essay is actually a long review of a biography of Shelley by Edward Dowden: Life of Shelley, a book that is extremely dismissive of Harriet Shelley, Percy Shelley's first wife - the one he left pregnant and with a child at home so that he could run away to Europe with Mary.

In no way is Twain's essay fair towards Percy Shelley - it does not try to be and I do not think that it should be. It's hard to defend a man who leaves his pregnant wife for a teenage girl. Twain rips this section of the biography apart bit by bit. Twain's sarcastic bite is on full display here - commentary that is very often laugh out loud funny and very tender towards Harriet Shelley.
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This is Mark Twain's review of a then-popular book which (apparently) eulogized and excused Shelley's abandonment of his first wife, Harriett. It's a good example of Twain's critical writing, and in some ways of his moralizing, but not as sharply incisive as his better-known criticism; fans of Twain's invective should start somewhere else (I'd recommend his essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences," a critique of the Leatherstocking books).

Only recommended for Twain scholars, not general readers.
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Like many satirists who take aim at the powerful, whether individuals, institutions, or societal conventions, Twain had a streak of gallantry towards the defenseless. That gallantry takes front and center in this review of Dowden's famous biography of Shelley, in which Shelley's biographer defended his hero's abandonment of his first wife by painting her as a greedy shrew who, to put it in contemporary terms, wasn't good enough for him.

While Twain generally admired Shelley as an individual, he makes it clear that he considered Shelley's behavior towards his first wife indefensible and that Dowden's attempted defense of that behavior to be absolutely reprehensible. He carefully dissects each of Dowden's charges and even more so, Dowden's skill at using weighted language and speculation to condemn her while pretending to be neutral.

Strongly recommended not just for Twain's admirers but for anybody studying rhetoric, political writing, or debate technique.
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Dear Mr. Twain,

For some reason I've never been passionate about you. I know why your works are great. I really liked Pudd'nhead Wilson, and I think any attempt to infrinage upon The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is misguided, misinformed (aka stupid and dumb). Yet, despite this I've never really warmed to you. Maybe it's because I saw you as more of a guy author.

I read your defense of H.Shelley because I remembered one of my profs referring to it.

Mr Twain, I love you now. I really do.

I enjoy Frankenstein, and I like Mary Shelley. I like Shelley's poetry, but as someone who has read the journals of Mary Shelley and Claire Claremont, there is something werid about Percy.

This is a wonderful essay in defense of a wronged woman who usually gets bypassed or left by the side in both Mary and Percy's biographies. It is a very sympathic essay. It is brillant.
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Thanks Mr. Twain! An important addition for anyone studying the life of Shelley. I hope Dowden read it at the time.
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