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Wordsworth Museum Presents Shelley's Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family
Shelley’s wife Mary wrote the novel Frankenstein when she was just 19, while visiting Lord Byron with her husband in Switzerland and the manuscript of this sensational work featured in the exhibition.
CUMBRIA.- Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family, a special exhibition at the Wordsworth Museum, is on view from July 7th through October 30th, 2011. Percy Bysshe Shelley was famous for his poetry and revolutionary political thought, but infamous for his convoluted private life and his relationships with women. Disowned by his Father, Shelley had a lifelong struggle with authority.

His political ideas were extreme for the time and his ideas on social convention would border on the radical even today. He campaigned for social equality and democratic reform while pursuing his inheritance as the son of a landed gentleman. He abhorred the institution of marriage and endorsed free love, although he was married twice.

At the age of 19, Shelley eloped with the 16 year-old daughter of a family friend. They were joined by her sister and later, by a schoolmistress from Sussex. This ménage lived a nomadic existence, moving when Shelley’s debts caught up with him, or when he feared the presence of government agents investigating his political agitation.

Three years later he abandoned his pregnant wife and his child and went to Europe with 17 year-old, Mary, the daughter of his friend and mentor William Godwin. Her step-sister joined this new group and over the next few years, in England and abroad, it seems that Shelley continued promote his principles of free love involving his wife, her sister and others, including Lord Byron.

Some have blamed him for the suicides of his first wife and his second sister-in-law.

Shelley died at the age of 29 when his boat ‘Don Juan’ sank off the coast of Italy, cutting short a brilliant and controversial life.

Shelley’s Ghost examines how the reputation of Shelley and his family was shaped by the selective release and suppression of manuscripts and documents into the public domain. Visitors can explore the fascinating evidence, drawn together for this unique event. They can discover the real lives of a family that was blessed with genius but marred by tragedy and make up their own minds about a man who has been called both Angel and Monster.

Among the exhibits are the suicide notes from Shelley’s first wife and second sister-in-law, the diary he kept while eloping with the daughter of a friend and her sister, portraits of Shelley and his wives together with pictures and personal possessions.

Shelley’s wife Mary wrote the novel Frankenstein when she was just 19, while visiting Lord Byron with her husband in Switzerland and the manuscript of this sensational work will feature in our exhibition.

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