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11 March 2011

statue of the drowned poet Shelley at Oxford

Click image to enlarge.

The Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 8 July 1822) and two companions drowned sailing on Shelley's yacht in a ferocious squall 10 miles off the coast of Italy. The yacht, built to Shelley's design, may not have been very seaworthy, and Shelley and his companions were not good sailors. A number of conspiracy theories sprang up about the drowning; in a conservative British society, Shelley's notoriously libertine life, sexual and romantic activities, and heretical atheistic ideas made him powerful enemies.

Shelley's clothed body washed ashore at Viareggio. He was buried, but then disinterred and his body cremated in a small ceremony on the beach. As the flames consumed the body, his friend Edward Trelawny removed Shelley's heart, and gave it to Mary Shelley, who kept it for the rest of her life. Shelley's heart was eventually buried with their son in England.

Shelley and a classmate were expelled from University College, Oxford for refusing to acknowledge or deny authorship of an anonymous pamphlet, "The Necessity of Atheism." The statue was first intended for the site of Shelley's ashes in Rome, but University College erected a memorial chamber to Shelley with the statue as centerpiece. It is not a public room, but can be viewed by request.

In 2008, Oxford's Bodlean Library published a new edition of "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Promethus" (1818) naming Shelley as co-author of the novel with his wife Mary (Wollstonecraft) Shelley.


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