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The Poet's Son & Daughter-in-Law

Guardian's of the family reputation and archive: Sir Percy Shelley and Jane, Lady Shelley

‘We, who bear his name, and are of his family, have in our possession papers written by his own hand … which few now living, except Shelley’s own children, have ever perused.’

Lady Shelley, Shelley Memorials, 1859

After Mary Shelley’s death in 1851, the family archives passed to her son Percy Florence and his wife Jane. Percy’s principal interests were sailing, bicycling and amateur dramatics. He took little interest in the literary remains of ‘me old father’, but looked after them dutifully. His wife, who had befriended and supported Mary Shelley during her final years, took a much keener interest.

As keepers of the archive, Sir Percy and Lady Shelley considered themselves the custodians of the reputations of Shelley, Mary Shelley, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft. Shelley’s, in particular, came under threat in the second half of the nineteenth century, when biographers uncovered the more scandalous episodes in his life, particularly his treatment of his first wife, Harriet. When Shelley’s friends began to write their memoirs, Sir Percy and Lady Shelley responded by commissioning an authorized biography from the poet’s Oxford friend, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, and lent him their papers. When the first part of his biography was published, however, they were so horrified by Hogg’s inaccuracies and fictions that they demanded the return of the papers and published their own, carefully censored editions of the correspondence.

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