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In Defence of Harriet Shelley
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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.
Only recommended for Twain scholars, not general readers.
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.
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.