Study Guide

Percy Bysshe Shelley Tragedy in Italy

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Tragedy in Italy

In 1818, following the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Percy Shelley's poems The Revolt of Islam and Ozymandias, the family decided to move to Italy. England was a difficult place for a Romantic couple with a decidedly unconventional lifestyle. Also, they were hoping to assist Claire Clairmont, whose relationship with Byron had gone more than sour. After giving birth to his child, Clairmont sent their daughter Allegra to live with Byron, believing that she would have a better life as the daughter of a baron. Instead, Byron deposited the little girl at an Italian convent and refused to allow Claire to see her. (Ugh, parents, am I right?) The Shelleys, whose friendship with Byron had also gone south, were hoping to persuade him to change his mind. Sadly, Claire never saw her daughter again before Allegra died of fever in 1822 at the age of five.

Their time in Italy turned out to be one of great tragedy for everyone involved. In September 1818, seventeen-month-old Clara Everina contracted dysentery and died. In June of the following year, the couple's three-year-old son William got malaria and died as well. Now the couple had no living children, though Mary was pregnant with her fourth. Mary Shelley was crippled by depression. To make matters even more complicated, in December 1818, between the deaths of their two children, a baby girl was born in Naples and registered as Shelley's daughter. The identity of this child is unclear - was she the illegitimate child of Shelley and a woman he had an affair with? Or was she an orphan Shelley adopted to console his grieving wife? Either way, the baby never lived with the Shelleys. She was placed with foster parents and died when she was only seventeen months old.

After William's death, the couple moved to Florence from Ravenna, "anxious for a time to escape a spot associated too intimately with his presence and loss,"

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