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Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation

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Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective—celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism.  The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning jour Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective—celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism.  The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning journalist Leigh Hunt. They included Lord Byron, John Keats, and Mary Shelley, as well as a host of fascinating lesser-known figures: Mary Shelley’s stepsister and Byron’s mistress, Claire Clairmont; Hunt’s botanist sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kent; the musician Vincent Novello; the painters Benjamin Haydon and Joseph Severn; and writers such as Charles and Mary Lamb, Thomas Love Peacock, and William Hazlitt. They were characterized by talent, idealism, and youthful ardor, and these qualities shaped and informed their politically oppositional stances—as did their chaotic family arrangements, which often left the young women, despite their talents, facing the consequences of the men’s philosophies. In Young Romantics, Daisy Hay follows the group’s exploits, from its inception in Hunt’s prison cell in 1813 to its disintegration after Shelley’s premature death in 1822. It is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and friendship, all of which were played out against a background of political turbulence and intense literary creativity.


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Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective—celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism.  The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning jour Young Romantics tells the story of the interlinked lives of the young English Romantic poets from an entirely fresh perspective—celebrating their extreme youth and outsize yearning for friendship as well as their individuality and political radicalism.  The book focuses on the network of writers and readers who gathered around Percy Bysshe Shelley and the campaigning journalist Leigh Hunt. They included Lord Byron, John Keats, and Mary Shelley, as well as a host of fascinating lesser-known figures: Mary Shelley’s stepsister and Byron’s mistress, Claire Clairmont; Hunt’s botanist sister-in-law, Elizabeth Kent; the musician Vincent Novello; the painters Benjamin Haydon and Joseph Severn; and writers such as Charles and Mary Lamb, Thomas Love Peacock, and William Hazlitt. They were characterized by talent, idealism, and youthful ardor, and these qualities shaped and informed their politically oppositional stances—as did their chaotic family arrangements, which often left the young women, despite their talents, facing the consequences of the men’s philosophies. In Young Romantics, Daisy Hay follows the group’s exploits, from its inception in Hunt’s prison cell in 1813 to its disintegration after Shelley’s premature death in 1822. It is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and friendship, all of which were played out against a background of political turbulence and intense literary creativity.

30 review for Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sean Barrs the Bookdragon

    I’m slightly jealous of the author of this. In the introduction she explains how she went on holiday to Rome and visited the grave of Shelley. I think I may have to plan a trip next summer……

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    I am not sure if I could have enjoyed this more if the author has sat beside me and personally read the book to me, for me this was part of a mighty quadrivia of books, interlocking, harnessed together in my imagination with Andrew Motion's Keats, The Making of the English Working Class, and The Romantic Revolution (with Marilyn Butler as charioteer). But maybe you don't much like the idea of great horses galloping all over your books and through your reading, in which case it is perhaps a migh I am not sure if I could have enjoyed this more if the author has sat beside me and personally read the book to me, for me this was part of a mighty quadrivia of books, interlocking, harnessed together in my imagination with Andrew Motion's Keats, The Making of the English Working Class, and The Romantic Revolution (with Marilyn Butler as charioteer). But maybe you don't much like the idea of great horses galloping all over your books and through your reading, in which case it is perhaps a mighty cog interlocking with smaller wheels, turning and twisting in the cultural life of England in the years between Waterloo and Greek Independence. The first cog is Leigh Hunt and his family circle, radical journalist - at the beginning of the book he was imprisoned for sedition, in prison he ran, with his brother, a campaigning newspaper (prison life under the ancien regime was slightly different to today. His suite of rooms functioned as an editorial office with friends and contributors coming and going. His life intersected with Keats and eventually Shelley - the Shelleys then take over as the major focus of this book. Daisy Hay's argument is that this period of Romanticism was qualitatively different from before or after because of the importance of conviviality and its role in creativity. People inspired one another, bounced ideas off one another, and in the case of Hunt encouraged mutual sonnet writing. I am no expert , all the same I did wonder how far this was different from the relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth, and eventually it seemed to me that her presentation of P.B. Shelley demonstrated a tension between the inspiration of others and the need for solitary space to get on with writing and not be distracted by eighteen-teens style road rage (view spoiler)[in one incident a dragoon jostles past Byron , Shelley and co in Italy on the road, they give chase, the dragoon slashes Shelley across his face, but is eventually stabbed in the back by one of Byron's servants (view spoiler)[ this turns out to be a theme I suspect that Byron choose his servants on the basis of how Byronic they were (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)] or very manly Byronic parties or shooting expeditions. Admittedly my sympathies were quickly won as the author described how her new husband felt himself hard done by when she persuaded him to visit the old Protestant cemetery in Rome, where Keats & Shelley lay in repose after their brief lives. His disinclination to spend his honeymoon poking about in old cemeteries puzzling me severely. I was stuck by Daisy Hay's deep sympathy and kindness towards a mess of variously damaged people who could be very cruel to one another making accusations in letters sent secretly trying to ensure their lasting closeness after death to one of the dead poets herein discussed, luckily the limitations of postal services in those pre-penny post days muted things a little with today's social media millions would have been agog at the relationship shifts, jilted lovers and spouses, abandoned children, deaths from TB, jibes about the deaths of the Shelly's children (view spoiler)[by the age of twenty-five Mary Shelley had seen three of her children die, and the loss of her husband (view spoiler)[ who had been freely snacked on by sea creatures after drowning and could only be identified by the books in his pockets (hide spoiler)] her elder half sister had committed suicide, and she'd had a couple of miscarriages, P.B. Shelley - surprised and isolated at her resultant depressions felt the best cure for these was further pregnancies, there was something in this apparently, as Mary was curiously upbeat about being pregnant - hope was the last of our torments to fall from the box which Pandora opened (hide spoiler)] reading on the train and seeing in the autumnal murk a lioness in one of those facilities for animals who haven't been tormented enough, wondering if she'd enjoy being free in the Kent countryside, stalking though the mud, I felt that everybody in the book need a hug, but after a moment it occurred to me, however voluptuous or powerful the hugging person this wouldn't be enough, better a barrel of warm compassion for each of them to soak in and ease themselves after a lifetime of feasting on lemons and gargling with vinegar. Why such tortured relationships haven't made it on to the television screen I don't know - too many suicides and too much atheism maybe (view spoiler)[ for which P.B.Shelley was sent down from Oxford, freedom of thought having no place in a university back then (hide spoiler)] coupled with disrespect for the monarchy maybe? It could hardly be that there is too much Italy, which became the go-to destination for British people unable to divorce to live with their new partners - a risky proposition since once the man drowned, the woman would be left penniless. Daisy Hay explores Hunt and his circle as a counter-cultural movement, espousing the values of conviviality, friendship, domesticity, the erotic potential of sisters-in-law (view spoiler)[ several of these man-poets needed an admiring woman to dote on them while wives due to pregnancies couldn't always be on hand, unlike sisters-in -law (hide spoiler)] , and electoral reform. these were years of deep fearfulness after decades of war and the arts were another field of battle in which generally men could participate without a whiff of gunpowder, for the more conservatively inclined, Hunt and his friends were described as 'cockneys', not lovable near-extinct white working class folks who eat only jellied eels but instead vile suburban types who were dangerously not in awe of the House of Lords and dreadful to tell, liked to sing round a family piano which was probably rented standing in a rented house or flat, such people plainly were godless and likely to be incestuous - such at least was the tenor of the criticism of the poetry written by those close to Hunt. Ultimately one of the few survivors, Hunt's sister-in-law Bess writes Flora Domestica a book on the joy of growing plants in pots, which have the advantage for generation rent of something you can take with you from rented flat to rented house, despite its practical domesticity, John Clare (used to a slightly wider field) was a fan. But this comes to be an example for Hay of the politicisation of daily life. One might not have a country estate with glass houses, but even in the humblest abode there is potential for equal creativity. While I'm not entirely convinced by her thesis, I am utterly enthralled by her deft and emphatic portrayal of a tangled web of creative people, a highlight of my 2016 reading year.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This book is an expanded thesis. I am making that the first piece of information I give you because it explains why the material in it is presented in the way that it is. Hay wrote her thesis attempting to work against the idea that the major Romantic writers actually produced their best work in "Romantic isolation" as hermits or whatever the hell else they cared to pretend to pose at when they were moody or out of money, but in fact were a very sociable lot whose major inspirations often came f This book is an expanded thesis. I am making that the first piece of information I give you because it explains why the material in it is presented in the way that it is. Hay wrote her thesis attempting to work against the idea that the major Romantic writers actually produced their best work in "Romantic isolation" as hermits or whatever the hell else they cared to pretend to pose at when they were moody or out of money, but in fact were a very sociable lot whose major inspirations often came from each other. Although she begins her work with the set piece of Leigh Hunt and supposedly the work is focused on the group that is connected through him, she spends most of her time with Shelley. That makes sense. He's her best argument. Both Shelleys are. They spent much of their married life surrounded by friends and family, sometimes unavoidably so, but much of the time through their own design. She will get into telling stories about the creation of each work and its general reception, and an amusing anecdote or two about some escapade the boys got up to, and then she always comes back to reminding us that this stuff showed up in their work and they influenced each other mightily even on the briefest of meetings. To her credit, she does not try to make relationships mean more than they did or last longer than evidence dictates (with some exceptions). It's always tempting to paint Shelley and Byron as eternally close, battling BFFs after the famous summer they spent together, because its more fun that way but in reality, Byron was always out of the social stratosphere of the Shelleys and kind of doing them a favor in hanging out with them. Lots of people think Shelley slept with Claire, Hay's pretty fair about giving the evidence as to whether or not that happened and if so how much it influenced him. I was less than thrilled with how much time we spent talking about incest (which is a subject on which there is shaky and ambiguous evidence all around), but to be fair, she presented several possible perspectives on the tangle they represented and she just wants them mostly as another example of a relationship, not a cheap thrill. And really, Shelley and Byron and Hunt apparently wrote about the issue enough and had odd enough living situations to be sort of weird and worth pointing out as a common thread. But in any case you can be sure of her pointing out over and over to her thesis advisors how this or that relationship made its way into this or that poem and why. It's a strong thesis. But unfortunately, these peoples' stories are so wonderful that I don't want them interrupted to make points, however well made. It seems like a misuse of material. The other standout thing I will remember about this book, which Hay did a great job of making painfully clear, is how much it sucked to be a woman who chose to be involved with this crowd. Even in the parents' generation that set it up. Three suicide attempts in this book, guys. Two of them successful (Mary Wollstonecraft and Shelley's first wife). Women are shunned and banned from their father's houses for taking up with these guys. Their children die (two of Mary's children die within a year!) or are taken away (Byron sucks. In case that was news to anyone). They take up these crazy ideas to please the boys or try to make the best of the choices they've made and only end up making themselves terribly sad. Their depression is thought a "fault" in them (Mary is prone to depressive spells and has an understandably long one after two of her children die, and therefore her relations with Shelley are kind of chilly. Especially after he gets the AWESOME idea-unconfirmed but Hay argues for it pretty persuasively- to try and adopt a random kid and give her to Mary to, you know, replace her two dead children. Because that's how that works. So when Shelley dies, they've grown a bit distant and she's held to be a bad, cold fish of a woman because of it.). Then, after these guys die, mostly for no damned good reason but their own stupidity or excess of spirits, they're left to fight over the ashes and pillory each other for their own survival or to run as far away as they can (Claire runs to Russia and buries herself there in obscurity for years). These intelligent, passionate women take up with these guys in their teens, and by their late twenties they've lived a whole life and it's over. It's heady, but oh my God, the grief it left behind. The women were the ones who touched me in this book. Lest anyone romanticize living in even freewheeling, free-thinking, well-educated, free-love experimenting society as a woman... read this book. To be fair, Shelley was doing a pretty good job of growing up by the end of the book. He started in a pretty despicable place, but after he met Mary he did make an effort to change. Not enough, but far more than any of the other men we encounter in this book (except maybe Keats and he died too soon to know) would have cared to try. But yes. Clearly excellently researched, with passion and that excellent dryly humorous British academic writing I love appearing here and there. Hay made something a bit different from material that has been poured over and worked over for two hundred years. An impressive feat in and of itself that deserves a look if you're at all interested in this era.

  4. 4 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    It was a truly memorable opening line from Jan-Maat's review (view spoiler)[ I am not sure if I could have enjoyed this book more if the author had sat beside me and personally read the book to me... (hide spoiler)] that first drew me to this one, a further perusal of said review and a certain excitement about the subject matter (Shelley! Byron! Mary Shelley! All in one book!) sent me straight to the wonderful world of online bookstores where I did not delay in hitting the ORDER NOW button after It was a truly memorable opening line from Jan-Maat's review (view spoiler)[ I am not sure if I could have enjoyed this book more if the author had sat beside me and personally read the book to me... (hide spoiler)] that first drew me to this one, a further perusal of said review and a certain excitement about the subject matter (Shelley! Byron! Mary Shelley! All in one book!) sent me straight to the wonderful world of online bookstores where I did not delay in hitting the ORDER NOW button after which, true to past form, it joined the piles and piles and piles of the Great Unread. But there were a couple of transatlantic flights coming up, and a five week sojourn away from my book room, and this seemed like the perfect pick to offer a refreshing change from fiction all the way, which can get a little cloying. I love the clean astringent taste of a well-written historical account, and this was perfect. Just perfect. Engaging, informative, stylish. And puts forward a fascinating theory: the whole concept of the Romantic poet, crafting individual outpourings of his magical soul while sequestered away in fecund solitude is utter hogwash. They all bounced ideas off each other, put challenges out to each other, and generally enjoyed the intellectual rivalry between each other. And she's brilliant on the women. Thank you to Jan-Maat for one of my best reads of 2017.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a joint biography of a ‘web of lives,’ centred around some of the major romantic poets and those associated with them. I have read other books about Percy Shelley, and his circle, and the main difference with this is that the scope is somewhat larger and includes Leigh Hunt, the editor of a newspaper, who we first meet when he is sent to prison for libel against the Prince Regent. In that sense, this book incorporates the politics of Europe, as well as the new literary movement. Hunt was This is a joint biography of a ‘web of lives,’ centred around some of the major romantic poets and those associated with them. I have read other books about Percy Shelley, and his circle, and the main difference with this is that the scope is somewhat larger and includes Leigh Hunt, the editor of a newspaper, who we first meet when he is sent to prison for libel against the Prince Regent. In that sense, this book incorporates the politics of Europe, as well as the new literary movement. Hunt was an interesting character, whose life, and relationships, often mirrored Shelley’s. As Shelly eloped with a young Mary, accompanied by her step-sister, later known as Claire Clairmont; Hunt lived with his wife, Marianne and her sister, Bess Kent. The closeness of both men’s relationships with women other than their wives (not to mention that Shelley eloped with Mary, abandoning his wife, and young child, Harriet) meant that they were viewed with suspicion by many in society. Another figure in this book, who was also notorious, was Lord Byron, who fathered Claire’s only child. Keats also features, as do others in the poets social circle. Although there is much in here about Shelley and his belief in ‘free love,’ it is soon apparent that such beliefs had different consequences for women. Much of this book is a depressing account of babies born and lost, as we make our way through the pages. For women, like Claire, who had a baby with no husband to protect her, her rights to her child were virtually nil. For those unhappily married, like Byron’s wife Annabella, who had the protection of her family, the outcome was happier – but there are also abandoned wives, such as Harriet, those left behind, like Mary’s half sister, Fanny, and women who simply do not fit into the social norm, who found it hard to cope and were often shunned and marginalised. Although many of the men struggled financially and had their own share of problems and tragedies, it was the women in this book that I felt the most for. Although I am not doubting that Shelley was a wonderful poet, he seemed very selfish, even cruel, at times – either consciously or unconsciously. Byron too disregarded Claire’s feelings over her daughter, and his refusal to let her be involved in her child’s life was heart breaking to read. Claire was a fascinating character, who seemed both foolish, at times, but also determined to change her life and take fate into her own hands. Overall, an interesting read, which looks at a while community of people and how they interacted and influenced each other.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    Worth the price of admission solely for first publication of a scrap of Claire Clairmont's scathingly bitter castigation of free love, written near the end of her long life, this is an entertaining and interesting look at what became the "Cockney School" of writers. Equally interesting to me was the fact that Daisy Hay's thesis parallels that of Diana Glyer in her equally well-researched work on the Inklings: namely, that though this was the era when the romantic view of the Romantics presented t Worth the price of admission solely for first publication of a scrap of Claire Clairmont's scathingly bitter castigation of free love, written near the end of her long life, this is an entertaining and interesting look at what became the "Cockney School" of writers. Equally interesting to me was the fact that Daisy Hay's thesis parallels that of Diana Glyer in her equally well-researched work on the Inklings: namely, that though this was the era when the romantic view of the Romantics presented the poets and writers as isolated spirits creating their works while alone in studies or garrets, they actually inspired and informed one another to a remarkable degree. Hay tries to cover all those gathered around Leigh Hunt, though some (such as the Lambs) get short shrift. Her focus is mainly on the Shelley menage once Hunt's complicated life is established, and how the Shelleys and Byron orbited around one another after Claire Clairmont caused them to meet. Hay does an excellent job of detailing the lives of the women in these circles, and the cost of the radical life the men proposed. While I think she glossed over the competitiveness between Byron and Shelley (that led directly to Shelley's early death), and skimmed the treatment of Polidori that famous ear Without A Summer, I liked how carefully she presented evidence for some of the more highly cathected incidents that have left scarce, or no, footprint. She then offers possible explanations, without assuming any are correct. I particularly liked her explanation of the mysterious Elena episode. That sounds so very Shelley. I also liked her discussion of the inspiration for, and development of, Mary Shelley's most famous novel: she neither denies Shelley's involvement nor attributes the book entirely to him, as do more politicized writers engaging with this material. Working from the actual manuscript, on which Shelley's distinctive handwriting can be seen, she makes a case for how closely Mary and Shelley collaborated, though the primary work was hers--just as they collaborated on their journal. Another grace note was her touching on these profoundly ignorant teenagers tramping all over Europe in the wake of Napoleonic devastation, without a real clue. Hay reminds the reader how very young they all were--before the age of 25, Mary Shelley had had numerous pregnancies, lost all but one of her children, and became a widow. I also liked how she never lost sight of Claire Clairmont, bringing together all her various strands at the end, tied to Claire's long, hard life.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    This book basically had me about two pages in, and that was just the preface! I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although in a slightly different way than I anticipated. The subject is fascinating and the book itself is incredibly well-written, which is a significant compliment considering the vast web of people Hay has to keep straight for her readers. Considering the amazing aesthetic and political battles these people fought, I can't quite believe there haven't been a gazillion movies, plays, an This book basically had me about two pages in, and that was just the preface! I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although in a slightly different way than I anticipated. The subject is fascinating and the book itself is incredibly well-written, which is a significant compliment considering the vast web of people Hay has to keep straight for her readers. Considering the amazing aesthetic and political battles these people fought, I can't quite believe there haven't been a gazillion movies, plays, and miniseries made out of just parts of their lives, let alone the arc of 20 years or so. What is especially interesting to me is that it raises the question--can you admire a person's work (of art) even if you know the person himself is a completely horribly person? You'll have to sort that out for yourself, as I still am. Specific to this book, I was... what's the word? disconcerted? by the utter disregard with which the men treat the women in their lives. Yes, yes, an old trope. But this utter disregard is coupled with the legal system of this era which considers children property of the father. Thus, certain fathers abandon their wives and children--who thus have no rights and no way to support themselves financially whatsoever--and then years later show up demanding to "take" the children, children who don't even actually KNOW their father (Shelley). Or a father ignores the birth of his illegitimate child until the child is two years old, ORDERS the mother to bring the two-year-old child to him in another country, jokes about grooming the child to be his lover, and then dumps the child in a convent despite the mother pleading to take the child back with her if he doesn't actually plan to raise her (Byron). All of that is bad enough, but could be ascribed to the legal and cultural "system" at the time, but on top of that, one reason this circle of writers was so reviled by their society (and thus left England for Italy) is because they specifically wrote about the wonders of incest. Yes, you read that right. Leigh Hunt and PB Shelley both wrote works of literature specifially supporting incest, and both Hunt and Shelley had "inappropriate" relationships with their sisters-in-law(s). Byron fathered a child by his own half-sister. And so on. (Even Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote a book that featured a destructive incestual relationship before the manuscript was heavily revised by her publisher). Finally, I was also "disconcerted" by the fates of three of the central women of this circle, two of whom committed suicide and a third who attempted it. Yet this circle of writers is still revered today as individualists, iconoclasts and icons, adventurers, poets, artists, political movers-and-shakers, and so on and so on. But they certainly left a wake of fatal destruction behind them. Thus, I am immediately commencing to read Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle. More to come!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Very detailed Biography of the later Romantic poets, their coterie, families, their lives combined with an historical framework of the early 19th Century. It is a well written, detailed and informative book with a fluid prose interspersed with quotes from letters, excerpts from the poetry associated with these Romantics, with in depth biographical studies of Mary and Percy Shelley and their friends, including Lord Byron, John Keats and Leigh Hunt to name a few of the 'web of our life of mingled Very detailed Biography of the later Romantic poets, their coterie, families, their lives combined with an historical framework of the early 19th Century. It is a well written, detailed and informative book with a fluid prose interspersed with quotes from letters, excerpts from the poetry associated with these Romantics, with in depth biographical studies of Mary and Percy Shelley and their friends, including Lord Byron, John Keats and Leigh Hunt to name a few of the 'web of our life of mingled yarn', the quote from a letter by John Keats that essentially summarises their interlinked and intellectual existences. And just how tragic their lives were; John Keats, a rising poet dies at just 25 years old in 1821; Percy Shelley, the castigated poet drowns off the coast of Italy at just 29 in 1822 and Mary Shelley, Percys wife and daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, looses all but one of her five children and her husband before the age of 25. Also, Percys ex wife Harriet commits suicide from his disinterest and rejection along with Fanny Godwin, Marys half sister. Their lives are just so marred with tragedy that at times it becomes painful to read, especially with Mary who experienced so much grief as well as being ostracised from her Father for marrying and interloping with Percy and not only that, being in some way blamed for not showing much grief when Percy died because she herself was already grieving and depressed for having just miscarried. She must have been so emotionally scarred during 1822. Despite the most tragic lives experienced within the ranks of these later Romantic poets (distinguished against the early Romantics such as Wordsworth and Colerdge etc), the circle managed to create a long lasting legacy within the canon of English Literature. Who has not heard of 'Frankenstein', the eminent first science fiction novel ever written, created at Villa Diodati as a bet at a party hosted by Byron to write a ghost story? An amazing feat by Mary who was only nineteen years old at the time. Most people are aware of Lord Byron, the scandalous aristocratic poet, whom was allegedly 'doing' his half-sister, which caused a great scandal, causing him to become exiled with his free-thinking and free-loving ideology. Percy Shelley, whom was thrown out of Oxford with his atheism, was also castigated in the press for living with two Women along with his radical publisher friend Leigh Hunt (both Hunt and Shelley were living with sisters). With the pervading morality of those early nineteenth century years, it caused to press to castigate the 'cockney poets', the term 'cockney' used to belittle their creativity as something being common and ignoring their creative talent, as their literature was seen as radical and at odds with the establishment. Percy Shelley was a proponent of a free thinking, free loving, republican ideology, an ideology that he tried to practise and realise through his own lifestyle, most notably in eloping and living with Mary and her half-sister, Clair Clairmont, one reason that William Godwin dismissed and rejected them from his household. Daisy Hay, in her book, towards the conclusion of her biographical study, suggest, going by Clairs later letters she wrote in her life (and Clair Clairmont probably was the most tragic figure of this circle who lived to tell the tale), that is was Percys self-realised belief of 'free love' that he tried to initially live by, that caused so much distress and tragedy within hers and Marys and their coteries lives. A good, amazingly researched study, condensed but still fact filled, interesting, page turning and very enjoyable (but sad) read. I did not want really to finish it, and towards the last twenty or so pages I really tried to halt its ending, but surely that what makes a good book?

  9. 5 out of 5

    G.

    The lives of Shelley, Mary, Claire, Hunt, Bess, Keats, Byron and many others were transformed as their worlds intersected, and as, in complex and ever-shifting configurations, they talked to each other, fought with each other, hated each other, and fell in love. Their stories demonstrate that friendship is not always easy: that relationships with other people can simultaneously be a source of great strength and unknowable pain. But they also show that friendship can be the making of the man. Thi The lives of Shelley, Mary, Claire, Hunt, Bess, Keats, Byron and many others were transformed as their worlds intersected, and as, in complex and ever-shifting configurations, they talked to each other, fought with each other, hated each other, and fell in love. Their stories demonstrate that friendship is not always easy: that relationships with other people can simultaneously be a source of great strength and unknowable pain. But they also show that friendship can be the making of the man. This is an idea which lies at the heart of a story about a web of exceptional men and women, who were made by their relationships with one another. The above quote summarizes perfectly what the Young Romantics is all about. Daisy Hay does a great job of presenting the "tangled web" of her subjects' lives and relationships. Some feature more prominently than others: the Shelleys, Claire Clairmont, Byron and Leigh Hunt are the central figures, with Keats more in the periphery. Though the overall portrait of the key players of the Romantic movement is quite well-rounded. Young Romantics was both informative and fun, even if I wouldn't have minded a bit more Keats, and more details about Jane Williams after Mary Shelley returned to England. Recommended.

  10. 4 out of 5

    H.

    The web of our Life is of mingled Yarn. — John Keats I should, of course, begin with this quote. It stands as a motto for Young Romantics, a beautiful, intricate retelling of the story of a coterie of writers and their friends through the nine years it existed. Its history begins in Leigh Hunt's prison cell in Surrey Gaol in 1813 and ends with Shelley's death in Lerici in 1822, but it also reflects on the aftermath of the group and what became of its main heroes, or rather, how their images change The web of our Life is of mingled Yarn. — John Keats I should, of course, begin with this quote. It stands as a motto for Young Romantics, a beautiful, intricate retelling of the story of a coterie of writers and their friends through the nine years it existed. Its history begins in Leigh Hunt's prison cell in Surrey Gaol in 1813 and ends with Shelley's death in Lerici in 1822, but it also reflects on the aftermath of the group and what became of its main heroes, or rather, how their images changed in subsequent years and were immersed into popular canon. As someone who is intimately fascinated by the younger generation of English Romantics and their works, this book made lovely reading for me. In a way, foreknowledge about its subjects makes reading it a bit easier, but even if you go into it without knowing a thing about the younger Romantics, it's explanatory enough to provide a vivid image of a given subject, be it Bess Kent, Leigh Hunt's sister-in-law, or Fanny Imlay, Mary Shelley's half-sister. However, as Percy Shelley and Leigh Hunt are ultimately the centres of the circle, this book focuses more on them, particularly Shelley and the members of his at-the-time (perhaps still) unorthodox family arrangement. If you want a story focused on Byron or Keats, this one is not for you, because while they are definitely present, they are hardly in the spotlight; it is understandable, of course, as Keats did his best to avoid association with Hunt after his early days as Hunt's protege, and Byron was far too lofty and busy to focus himself solely on a little group of liberals and dreamers, whom this book is, in the end, about. The story of the younger generation of English Romantics is a tragic one: a way of thinking and living started in the mid-1810s was quickly extinguished in just four years in the beginning of the 1820s with the deaths of Keats, Shelley, and Byron. Perhaps some of their failings can be explained by their youth — I think Shelley's emotional insensitivity is definitely one of these — but it is imperative to understand that they were, ultimately, flawed, complex people and not the ethereal creatures they were painted to be by friends and family in retrospect. They were, after all, still relatively young and developing as people when they died; I think Byron is the only of the main three that got a chance to develop into a semblance of what his truly mature self would've been before he died. Keats and Shelley didn't get that chance, and the literary world is a bleaker place for it. Perhaps one of my favourite things about this book is how it handles the Romantic women. Although it does highlight their faults when necessary, it also treats them with sympathy and respect: for example, Claire Clairmont is painted not only as Mary Shelley's stepsister and a frantic ex-lover of Byron (as has been the case in most of the biographies of Byron I've happened upon), but also as a caring mother and as a woman desperately seeking independence at a time when women were generally not viewed as equal to men. Her story is perhaps the most heartbreaking of them all, even though they're all difficult and sad in their own ways. In the end, Young Romantics is a successful attempt to draw attention to the failings of imagining the Romantic Poet as a strictly isolated figure without reeling into the opposite to state that Romantic poetry was exclusively born in a crowd. As Percy Shelley did, it reaches the conclusion that in the birth of some of the most profound and beautiful poetry in the English language, both solitude and society played significant roles. It's a lovely book to read for social and historical context if you're interested in the younger generation of English Romantics and their work and I heartily recommend it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    Incest! Suicide! Adultery! Child Abandonment! Ménage à trois! Revolution! Free love! Atheism! Vegetarianism! Counter-culture! So, an account of the 1960s? Try 1810s. As the subtitle proclaims, this is about "the Shelleys, Byron, and other tangled lives"--including Keats: "a story of exceptional men and women, who were made by their relationships with one another." You might know that the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was friends with the equally renowned poet Lord Byron and husband to Mary Shelley, Incest! Suicide! Adultery! Child Abandonment! Ménage à trois! Revolution! Free love! Atheism! Vegetarianism! Counter-culture! So, an account of the 1960s? Try 1810s. As the subtitle proclaims, this is about "the Shelleys, Byron, and other tangled lives"--including Keats: "a story of exceptional men and women, who were made by their relationships with one another." You might know that the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was friends with the equally renowned poet Lord Byron and husband to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. You may even know the famous story of the novel's genesis in a challenge that each should write a ghost story. Mary was nineteen then--she was sixteen when she ran away with Shelley--while he was still married to his first wife, who was pregnant at the time. Mary's stepsister Claire ran away with them, and would later give birth to Byron's illegitimate daughter. The coterie were advocates of "free love," which Claire in old age would condemn as a "perfect hell." I have to admit, although far from socially conservative, I'm no fan of "free love" and the wreckage it leaves in its wake, and this book gives plenty of fodder to confirm my opinion. Neither Shelley nor Byron come off well in this group biography, even if Shelley had the excuse of youthful idealism, and seemed more thoughtless than intentionally cruel. They were all so young though. When this account opens, Mary was fifteen, Shelley twenty and Byron only twenty-four. Shelley wouldn't reach thirty. Keats, who is my favorite of the poets that appears here died at an even more obscenely young age--twenty-five. Not that Keats figures much here--I garnered more of his story from the introduction to my book of his poems than from this book. But the Shelleys are central, and with many of their letters and diaries surviving, Hay is able to paint a very intimate portrait that is psychologically nuanced and astute, and sheds light on the men's work. Keats may be a favorite, but I was underwhelmed by most of what I've read by Percy Shelley, and have read little of Lord Byron. It's to the book's credit it left me wanting to give Shelley another chance, and Lord Byron a try. I might count myself lucky after reading this book not to be in their circle or that of anyone like them, but they certainly left a rich literary legacy. And this is more than a gossipy account of their scandalous "turbulent communal existence"--it grounds them in the intellectual and political ferment of their times. But, well, can't help but leave you with a link to this comic strip that captured the central relationship in the book well :-) Enjoy! http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    The Romantics have been a huge part of my life; if it wasn’t for them I may never have become a reader. Problem is, I don’t know much about their lives so I have set out to learn more. Young Romantics by Daisy Hay tells the basic story of their lives, but with the subtitle The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives you can be sure it will be heavily focused on Mary and Claire. This is not necessarily a bad thing; Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont were fascinating people, however this seems to be The Romantics have been a huge part of my life; if it wasn’t for them I may never have become a reader. Problem is, I don’t know much about their lives so I have set out to learn more. Young Romantics by Daisy Hay tells the basic story of their lives, but with the subtitle The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives you can be sure it will be heavily focused on Mary and Claire. This is not necessarily a bad thing; Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont were fascinating people, however this seems to be the primary focus of more biographies. I was a little surprised when Daisy Hay spends so little time on that fateful time in Geneva that birthed Frankenstein but I assume that she deliberately glossed over that story assuming everyone was aware of it anyway. Young Romantics did something I didn’t expect and that was spending a lot of time talking about the Hunt brothers. I knew they played a big part in literature at the time and that in context to the Romantics it is relevant information. However I never viewed them as Romantics and often over looked learning about them. This is a mistake on my behalf; the role the Hunts played in the Romantic Movement is an essential part in dealing with context. I might not consider them Romantics but they were there shaping the literary world along side them. Having discovered a new interest in non-fiction I find myself wanting to read more biographies. While I have a great interest in the Romantics, I found that Young Romantics works to create a basic understanding of their lives. You get a quick overview of the lives of the Shelleys and the Hunts. Unfortunately there isn’t much to do with Lord Byron and even less to do with the others. I would have loved to read more about Keats but he only got a brief look in. I plan to read more biographies about a range of different authors but I’m sure there will be plenty on the Romantics. I like Young Romantics for the broad strokes approach it took on the Romantics. I learnt a lot from this book but I’m sure people with a great knowledge would have been a little disappointed with it. I think if you have a passing interest in the Romantics this might be the perfect choice. This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2014/...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    As a graduate student, the author discovered a portion of an unpublished memoir by Claire Clairemont, Mary Shelley's stepsister, among letters purchased by the Pforzheimer Collection in 1998 and housed at the New York Public Library. Claire's vitriolic condemnation of Byron, Shelley, and the philosophy of free love is published here for the first time, and that alone makes the work important Well written overall and a fascinating account of the Shelley circle, the book's thesis is that while the As a graduate student, the author discovered a portion of an unpublished memoir by Claire Clairemont, Mary Shelley's stepsister, among letters purchased by the Pforzheimer Collection in 1998 and housed at the New York Public Library. Claire's vitriolic condemnation of Byron, Shelley, and the philosophy of free love is published here for the first time, and that alone makes the work important Well written overall and a fascinating account of the Shelley circle, the book's thesis is that while the young Romantic poets may have written about and praised solitude and individuality, their inspirations came largely from the company they kept. Dr. Hay makes a convincing case for her thesis in an entertaining way. She does betray a partiality for Mary Shelley, although she also sympathizes with Claire. She spares no sympathy, however, for poor Jane Williams, the inspiration for some of Shelley's last poems. In fact, Jane, who had been quite unfair to Mary after Shelley's death, disappears from the book before the end, although she and Mary had made amends before Mary's death in 1851. The author records the death of Thomas Jefferson Hogg (1862) but makes no mention of his "marriage" to Jane Williams or that she had two children by him. Nor does she mention that Jane outlived them all, dying at eighty-six in 1884. This is odd, since she claims that Claire (died 1879) and Trelawny (died 1881) were the last of Shelley's circle to have passed away. Although I can understand the author's dislike of Jane for the malicious things she said about Mary and understand her championing of the claims of the beautiful, talented, and long-suffering Mary to be the keeper of Shelley's memory, it is hard to ignore the contributions of Jane to Shelley's poetry. Nevertheless, it is a fine book and I have had much enjoyment from it. For those who wish to know more about Jane Williams and her part in the Shelley circle, I recommend Shelley's Jane Williams by Joan Rees.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rikke

    “The web of our Life is of mingled Yarn.” - John Keats. A very interesting attempt to portray the complicated dynamics between the inner circle of the English poets from the Romantic era. Hay sets out to show how vital the friendships and relationships between the poets were to their work; essentially deconstructing the idea and myth of the romantic genius wrapped in deep solitude. In order to emphasize this importance of friendship and social interactions, Hay mainly focuses on the Shelleys, as t “The web of our Life is of mingled Yarn.” - John Keats. A very interesting attempt to portray the complicated dynamics between the inner circle of the English poets from the Romantic era. Hay sets out to show how vital the friendships and relationships between the poets were to their work; essentially deconstructing the idea and myth of the romantic genius wrapped in deep solitude. In order to emphasize this importance of friendship and social interactions, Hay mainly focuses on the Shelleys, as the Shelleys probably were the ones who depended the most on their poetic friends. Hay writes vividly and yet realistically about the sorrows in Mary and Percy Shelley's life; their loss of several children, Mary's depressions, Shelley's flirtations, their final estrangements and Shelley's sudden death. While Percy Shelley's biography contains some mysteries, Hay never relies on speculation. She always presents a broad variety of possible interpretations, and when she's only guessing, she informs the reader. She is always well-reasearched, always informative and never boring. I only wish that Hay's study of Romanticism didn't concentrate so deeply on the Shelleys. While I do understand that the Shelleys are Hay's best example of the linked lives of the English poets, it would have been interesting to draw some contrasts. Perhaps it is because of my deep admiration and love for Keats, but I am a bit disappointed by Hay's narrow perspective.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melora

    This was interesting and entertaining, but I think the title is a bit misleading. I expected the book to focus on the lives of Keats, Byron, and Shelley, but it is actually focused primarily on Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Leigh Hunt. Byron, Keats, and other less commonly remembered artists make appearances, but the author's main interest is in the Shelleys and Hunt, for whom the creation of a community or communities of like minded artists was of great importance. The author does a better This was interesting and entertaining, but I think the title is a bit misleading. I expected the book to focus on the lives of Keats, Byron, and Shelley, but it is actually focused primarily on Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Leigh Hunt. Byron, Keats, and other less commonly remembered artists make appearances, but the author's main interest is in the Shelleys and Hunt, for whom the creation of a community or communities of like minded artists was of great importance. The author does a better job of telling the torrid and tragic tales of her characters than she does of really illustrating the literary, political, and philosophical influences they had on each other (with the exception of that of Percy on his wife, Mary, where his poetic and philosophical influences on her work are more clearly indicated), but she tells a good story, though admittedly one fleshed out with a fair lot of speculation. I enjoyed this.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary Atwell

    Although they first appear as Young Romantics, Daisy Hay's finely researched and written biography quickly dispels many 'romantic' myths about its subjects. The appalling treatment of Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont by their lovers makes sobering reading and the unsettled, fractured lives and overall emotional health of the group make you wonder how they managed to write anything at all! Indispensable for fans of both Shelleys, Lord Byron and Keats and an excellent general introduction to the Although they first appear as Young Romantics, Daisy Hay's finely researched and written biography quickly dispels many 'romantic' myths about its subjects. The appalling treatment of Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont by their lovers makes sobering reading and the unsettled, fractured lives and overall emotional health of the group make you wonder how they managed to write anything at all! Indispensable for fans of both Shelleys, Lord Byron and Keats and an excellent general introduction to the work of the second generation Romantics.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kate Lawrence

    I loved this! I've long been interested in the Romantic poets and knew a little of the lives of the Shelleys, Keats and Byron. Last year's bittersweet film "Bright Star" brought them back to mind and primed me to pick up this book. What's unusual among accounts of these poets and their period is that in Young Romantics we get them, their partners and several other literary friends all in one volume--their interactions, mutual inspirations, and squabbles. I was fascinated to read how they influen I loved this! I've long been interested in the Romantic poets and knew a little of the lives of the Shelleys, Keats and Byron. Last year's bittersweet film "Bright Star" brought them back to mind and primed me to pick up this book. What's unusual among accounts of these poets and their period is that in Young Romantics we get them, their partners and several other literary friends all in one volume--their interactions, mutual inspirations, and squabbles. I was fascinated to read how they influenced each other even when they weren't getting along. For example, it was because Mary Shelley's stepsister Claire wanted to visit the daughter she had with Byron that the Shelleys and Claire left England for their long sojourn in Italy. Byron wanted complete control of the daughter. The book centers on Leigh Hunt, a journalist and literary salon host who, although mostly forgotten today, was a hub around which the others revolved for a time. The issue of solitude vs. community as the best inspiration for the writing life is deeply explored. The author's skill is evident in juggling all these talented and eccentric characters without confusing the reader, and in being careful to stick to the facts expressed in their writings rather than speculate on what might have been going on under the surface.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Wonderful! This was a great retelling of the story of the 1810-20's Romantic set, focusing on Shelley, Byron, Keats and Leigh Hunt. I knew some of the basic outlines of the story of course, but was unaware of the very complex interrelationships between them and Hunt. I really liked that Hay also put the women into this narrative--naturally Mary Shelley, but also her stepsister, and Leigh Hunt's wife and sister-in-law. In a lot of ways, the story that came through clearest for me was how Mary She Wonderful! This was a great retelling of the story of the 1810-20's Romantic set, focusing on Shelley, Byron, Keats and Leigh Hunt. I knew some of the basic outlines of the story of course, but was unaware of the very complex interrelationships between them and Hunt. I really liked that Hay also put the women into this narrative--naturally Mary Shelley, but also her stepsister, and Leigh Hunt's wife and sister-in-law. In a lot of ways, the story that came through clearest for me was how Mary Shelley and the other women in the set suffered at times for the "free love" ideals of their famous men, but still managed in many cases to win some independence and some literary credit of their own. I had always thought of of the Shelleys' story as being nearly as romantic as the Brownings--no more. While I'll always like some of his poems, I'm astounded at Shelley's self-centered callousness. (I was less surprised at the accounts of Byron's, naturally.) Delicious story of the literary results of friendship, and also the personal and social costs of trying to remake society.

  19. 4 out of 5

    F

    This is a well documented, well written account of the lives of the Romantic circle. The book's thesis is a very interesting one, and the inclusion of the writers that are normally only mentioned -and especially, of the women that were part of the coterie makes it even better, and sets it apart from the other biographies I have read. The narrator is kind, serious and has made her homework, and it was a delight being accompanied by her in my reading. I learnt things. I am happy. Well done.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Steve Gordon

    A fascinating story which is at times eclipsed by a "dissertation" like quality produced by the author. Instead of simply telling the intertwining story of Percy Shelly, Leigh Hunt, Mary Shelly, John Keats, and Byron, she attempts to force the narrative into proof of her "social networking produces art" thesis. Fortunately, the very power of the lives of the great Romantics (and their radical, political underpinnings) makes this a great read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kandice

    Definitely not a scholarly biography, but an entertaining, thoughtful, and moving introduction to the lives of the members of the Shelley/Byron circle, that keeps a keen eye on the social and political forces at work in their lives.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Debra

    I thought Shelley and Byron were poops! Especially Byron. Cold and unfeeling about his child, I knew he was not a very attractive character, and this reading really brought that home. Great read though!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Hayes

    When I was 12 years old my mother gave me a book of essays by William Hazlitt as a Christmas present. I am not sure what she had in mind, or what appeal it might have for an 12-year-old whose reading, up till that point, had consisted mainly of Enid Blyton and the Biggles books. As I wandered around the neighbourhood on foot, by bicycle or on horseback I tried to be observant in looking for clues of possible criminal activity, in emulation of the Secret Seven. To think a child with such preoccup When I was 12 years old my mother gave me a book of essays by William Hazlitt as a Christmas present. I am not sure what she had in mind, or what appeal it might have for an 12-year-old whose reading, up till that point, had consisted mainly of Enid Blyton and the Biggles books. As I wandered around the neighbourhood on foot, by bicycle or on horseback I tried to be observant in looking for clues of possible criminal activity, in emulation of the Secret Seven. To think a child with such preoccupations would be interested in reading Hazlitt's essays seems to be stretching things too far. To a 12-year-old, most of the references and allusions were not just obscure, but incomprehensible. Even when I finally took it down from the shelf and began to read it 45 years later I found it heavy going. But now, after reading Young Romantics, I feel ready to tackle Hazlitt again, because it puts his writing into context -- not only what he was writing about, but whom he was writing for (and against). It was also when I was twelve years old that I first began to like Keats's poetry. The first few lines of Endymion, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever" gripped me, and I put my own interpretation on them, and made no connection between Keats and Hazlitt. Perhaps that is why my mother gave me Hazlitt's essays, but it's too late to ask her now. But when I began reading this book I began to feel a bit like Keats felt on first looking into Chapman's Homer. Literary figures that I has seen as quite separate began to make sense because of their interactions with each other. Keats and Shelley have always been among my favourite poets, and I found it very interesting reading, in part because they formed a kind of literary circle similar to the Bloombury Group and the Inklings in the 20th century.. One of the circle, Leigh Hunt, who was imprisoned for libelling the Prince Regent, managed to conduct business and even enjoy married life and the society of his friends from his prison cell, and continued to edit his paper The Examiner from prison. His paper promoted radical political reform and poetry, but being in prison also taught him the value of friendship and "sociability". Hay (2011:41)writes The result was that by the end of his prison sentence Hunt had established 'sociability' as an important ideological principle. He did so in an experiment in living which elevated the rituals of friendship -- communal dining, music making, letter writing, shared reading -- so that in Hunt's rooms in the old infirmary these rituals took on a cooperative, oppositional significance. In The Examiner such activities were given a public outlet, as conversations over dinner were rewritten in the collaborative 'Table Talk' columns, letters from friends were published and discussed in editorials, and as different members of Hunt's circle contributed theatrical and literary reviews which reflected the group's diversity as well as its coherence. As I read on it seemed that in the period 1814-1816 they were a bunch of aristocratic hippie dropouts, similar in many ways to the middle-class Beat Generation and hippie dropouts of of the 1950s and 1960s. And they happened to write good poetry. Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac's On the road trip of 1948 seems positively tame compared with Shelley's teenage elopement through war-torn Europe with Mary Godwin and her stepsister, in the pause between Napoleon's incarceration on and escape from Elba and his final defeat at Waterloo. It was definitely a period when Brit tourists were not welcome in Europe. And as they had no money, they went much of the way on foot. They belived in anarcy and free love, but at the root of it was a kind of selfishness. Carolyn Cassady's Off the road is pretty scathing about Neal Cassady & Jack Kerouac's habits of promiscuity and selfishness too -- another link across these generations. Shelley eventually married Mary Godwin, after his first wife's suicide but it seems that the so-called "free love" often turned out to be neither. Mary's father, William Godwin, wrote the book on it, but when his children and stepchildren began to practise what he preached, he turned them out of the house and would not speak to them. Some hippie communes of the late 1960s and early 1970s were based on similar ideals, though others were not. There's a kind of balance between sociability and selfishness that seems to be missing in all this. Eventually the literary circle around Leigh Hunt began to disintegrate, and at that point the book does too. The book follows Percy and Mary Shelley, and the other members of the group only make appearances when their lives touch those of the Shelleys. Byron, Keats and Hunt flit in and out. Keats's death is noted, because he had arrived in Italy at Shelley's invitation, though he never got to visit they Shelleys. Shelley's death is described in detail, but Byron's is mentioned merely in passing. We read about what happened to each of Shelley's children, but Hunt's disappear into obscurity. The "sociability" that had originally drawn the group together eventually becomes the subject of varying interpretations. As Hay (2011:283) All these women had learnt of the reality of free love back in the 1810s, when their unorthodox living arrangements, and the ideals of Shelley and Hunt, had variously exposed their lives to public scrutiny and, in the case of Mary and Claire, their bodies to illegitimate pregnancy. This was also true for Jane Williams, whose chikren were born outside of wedlock and who had lost her male protector. Now that the men of the group were dead, or living abroad, the women were left behind to count the cost of youthful idealism: damaged reputations, limited earning capacity, and exclusion from polite society. Leigh Hunt, who had gone to Italy to join his wealthier friends Shelley and Byron in the hope of earning a living in a joint publishing venture, a periodical called The Liberal, was left stranded by their deaths, and discovered much the same when he returned to England Hunt's homecoming was thus, in many ways, disappointing. The network which sustained his imagination during his absence turned out to be a chimera. As far as Hunt's friends were concerned, this was a natural progression in which the demands of work and family took precedence over youthful ideals of communal living. They recognised that their intense, clasustrophobic, clubbable circle of the 1810s belonged to a different era. Its public and private significance has faded as British politics entered the calmer waters of the 1820s, and their individual responsibilities towards parents, husbands, wives and children increased. And I wonder if that is not perhaps a good description of the fate of many of the hippie communes of my youth. A question the book raises for me is the nature and conception of liberalism. The group that gathered around Hunt, Shelley & Co described themselves and saw themselves as liberals, but it seems to me that they might better be described as libertarians and libertines. Their notion of the need to destroy social institutions such as marriage, because they saw them as oppressive and enslaving seems to contrast with their desire for sociability. Perhaps as a result of that the ideal of sociability was never realised, and the lives of the dead members of the circle were reinvented as lives of extreme individualism.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Lona Manning

    I really liked Daisy Hay's approach to telling the story of the young Romantics, particularly Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Byron. While she shares their point of view, she doesn't hide her opinions about the miserable consequences of "free love" as practiced in the era before birth control and social programs. She discusses the lesser-known works of Mary Shelley and links the Romantics to other figures who were prominent in their day, but whose star has faded since then. While resear I really liked Daisy Hay's approach to telling the story of the young Romantics, particularly Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Byron. While she shares their point of view, she doesn't hide her opinions about the miserable consequences of "free love" as practiced in the era before birth control and social programs. She discusses the lesser-known works of Mary Shelley and links the Romantics to other figures who were prominent in their day, but whose star has faded since then. While researching this book, Daisy Hay came across an unpublished fragment of a memoir by Claire Clairmont, former lover of Byron and half-sister to Mary Shelley. I can't imagine anything more exciting than to discover something unknown that had been lost in the archives. If you are interested in the lives (warts and all) of the Romantic Poets, this book would be a good choice!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mj Zander

    Meticulously researched, Daisy Hay weaves together the threads that create the tapestry of the lives of the Romantics. The book focuses primarily on the Shelleys and their friendships and interactions with Byron, Hunt, Trelawny and various others. The Shelleys' relationship was complicated, often fraught with rumours and misunderstandings. Shelley found himself incapable of remaining faithful to his wife, and Mary accepted this with a silence that often made her appear cold and uncaring, even af Meticulously researched, Daisy Hay weaves together the threads that create the tapestry of the lives of the Romantics. The book focuses primarily on the Shelleys and their friendships and interactions with Byron, Hunt, Trelawny and various others. The Shelleys' relationship was complicated, often fraught with rumours and misunderstandings. Shelley found himself incapable of remaining faithful to his wife, and Mary accepted this with a silence that often made her appear cold and uncaring, even after Shelley's death. However, Hay's account, even with Mary's bouts of depression and thoughts of suicide, proves just how resilient she was. This is a fascinating and highly recommendable read to anyone with even the slightest interest in the Shelleys and the period in which they lived.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chris Peach

    Daisy Hay tells what everyone knows is a remarkable story with intelligence, clarity and humanity. I was gripped by it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    I received Daisy Hay's Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation as a graduation gift, and I went into it with two hopes: one, that it would support my pet theory that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is in part written as a satire at the expense of the insufferable male poets in her life, and that reading about the Romantic poets would be more intriguing than reading Romantic poetry in 100-level English courses. For the former, I was left more or less where I star I received Daisy Hay's Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry's Greatest Generation as a graduation gift, and I went into it with two hopes: one, that it would support my pet theory that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is in part written as a satire at the expense of the insufferable male poets in her life, and that reading about the Romantic poets would be more intriguing than reading Romantic poetry in 100-level English courses. For the former, I was left more or less where I started. None of the letters and diaries concerning Mary Shelley contained any particular indication that the quietly subverted Romantic tropes in Frankenstein had anything to do with annoyance at Percy Shelley's, Lord Byron's, or anyone else's behavior, although I am perhaps more convinced that, if I were Mary Shelley, that is exactly why I would have put them in there. As to the latter hope, I was not disappointed. Young Romantics tells a tangled story of a network of famous poets and their less-famous friends and family members, most of whom were very young, very brilliant, and very politically radical. The resulting drama makes their literary legacies—some of the most enduring in English writing—look positively boring in comparison. There are more or less two central points to the social network that made up the Romantic group, giving the book two main narrative threads which sometimes interweave. The first thread follows journalist and free-speech activist Leigh Hunt, who kicks off the book with a two-year prison sentence for libel due to the political content of his newspaper, The Examiner. In prison and out of it, Hunt made himself and his rooms the epicenter of a salon of radicals, freethinkers, poets and journalists, as well as a rather large group of relatives including his wife Marianne, his botanist sister-in-law Bess, his brother John (co-owner of The Examiner and the only fiscally responsible person in the family), and an enormous brood of children. The other main narrative thread follows Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, daughter of radical freethinker William Godwin and early feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, a radical anti-monarchist who was expelled from Oxford after writing a pamphlet on The Necessity of Atheism. Mary, as formidable a creative and intellectual force as her parents, would go on to be best known as the author of Frankenstein; Shelley, despite his political activism, would go on to become the poster boy for underweight, sentimental, tortured poetic genius. In Young Romantics, however, we get to know them as an idealistic young couple, prone to quarreling with their family members and making daring, ill-thought-out decisions, such as eloping to Italy without any money. The most frequently reoccurring characters in Percy and Mary's story include Mary's stepsister and Lord Byron's mistress, Claire Clairmont; Lord Byron himself; and their illegitimate daughter. Daisy Hay guides us through their personal dramas and literary achievements as the group continually splits up and comes back together again, traveling from England to Italy and back several times. Poems, novels, letters and diaries are written prolifically; children are born, and die, or become the subjects of vicious custody battles. Other Romantic celebrities such as John Keats, Thomas Love Peacock, Charles and Mary Lamb, William Hazlitt, Benjamin Haydon, and Vincent Novello drift in and out of their circle and Leigh Hunt's. Young Romantics is not just a set of biographic stories of the individual Romantic greats, just as the Romantic movement (or “Cockney school,” as it was called at the time) was more than just a number of individual people who all wrote in a similar style. The Romantic group was held together as a group—as a movement—by a set of commonly shared concerns and principles, many of which are precisely what disposed the Romantic writers' lives so uniquely to such vast amounts of drama. Hay never lets us lose sight of these principles, and the impact they had on even the most deeply personal aspects of the Romantics' lives. Many of them were driven by radical political concerns, particularly freedom of speech, which is part of what caused so many visionaries to congregate around Leigh Hunt's imprisonment and the various liberal publications to come out of the Hunts' press. The Shelley group also tried to live according to principles of free-love, an idealistic, anti-marriage lifestyle that managed to backfire spectacularly upon its practitioners. Before the advent of reliable birth control and under the early nineteenth century's deeply sexist marriage and property laws, free-love was so impracticable that many of the most vocal free-love advocates ended up married. Perhaps the most important common bond of the Romantics, however, was their exploration of the relationship between sociability and creativity. The biographic sketches in the book are full of scenes of geniuses editing and inspiring each other's work, holding writing competitions and penning long epistles to one another. Fictionalized versions of friends and family members feature heavily in the Romantic writers' works, to a degree that they not only became known and mocked for it, but that the reading public began to attribute the fictional aspects of Romantic works to the writer's lives. (This caused serious damage to Bess and Claire's reputations when Hunt and Shelley wrote poems exploring themes of incest.) Daisy Hay balances exploring friendship as a Romantic ideal and chronicling the frequently tense, conflict-ridden actual friendships in question with grace, clarity and thorough research. This centrality of friendship to the Romantic school raised a new concern following the tragically premature deaths of many of the notable Romantics, particularly Percy Shelley and Lord Byron: the issue of legacy. The surviving members of the network, such as Leigh Hunt and Mary Shelley, spent years battling in writing over the legacies of their dead friends. Biographies, carefully edited posthumous anthologies, and newspaper reviews were the weapons of choice as Shelley, Hunt and even Claire Clairmont angled to cement certain visions of themselves and their social circle into the British imagination. Though most of the cast is dead, the last section in Young Romantics is particularly fascinating to a reader who is truly interested in history, since it does not merely report history as that which happened—it shows how the history of the Romantics, as we usually learn it, was actually made. Young Romantics is an example of the best sort of non-fiction: meticulously well-researched, full of quirky historical tidbits and telling a story strange and dramatic enough to be fiction. Hay's writing is clear and well-organized, and seamlessly weaves in ample accounts of the subjects' lives in their own words. Though the book contains very little in the way of literary criticism, the links she establishes between the poets' lives and their works has me eyeing the collections of Romantic poetry I've had sitting around untouched for years, and that is no small feat. It must be admitted that I may, however, merely wind up rereading Frankenstein. Original post at Romantic nonsense.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kristina A

    I loved this and devoured it pretty quickly. How can it not be a page-turner, when every time you turn around there's another illicit affair, illegitimate child, imprisonment, suicide, or untimely death? It makes you feel that your own life is boring... and that you're totally fine with that. I should say I'm not a big reader of biographies, so my love for this book could be influenced by that. I already knew a lot of the story of Mary and Percy Shelley, but I've always wanted to read a longer ac I loved this and devoured it pretty quickly. How can it not be a page-turner, when every time you turn around there's another illicit affair, illegitimate child, imprisonment, suicide, or untimely death? It makes you feel that your own life is boring... and that you're totally fine with that. I should say I'm not a big reader of biographies, so my love for this book could be influenced by that. I already knew a lot of the story of Mary and Percy Shelley, but I've always wanted to read a longer account of it. The strength of this book, in my opinion, lies in the fact that it's a group biography. (Maybe I should try reading more group biographies in general, instead of individual biographies?) Hay does an impressive job of keeping many stories going at once and keeping a focus on the connections between people. I really enjoyed that Hay had an argument (one that she never lost sight of, and perhaps occasionally emphasized a little too often), which is that it was the relationships between these various individuals that inspired creative production. In literary studies, feminist critics often lament the idea that only female authors are read biographically (that is, the sexist assumption is that women write from life because they lack the imagination to conjure something from thin air), and that many female authors are read in relation to their male writing counterparts (for instance, many sexist critics have assumed Percy rather than Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein). What I liked about Hay's argument, and found quite feminist about it, is the idea that the concept of solitary genius is an illusion, that writers are always either feeding off inspiration from life or other writers, and that even when writers need isolation in order to work, that in itself is a reaction to relationships. The book also points out the way that those who were not writers also influenced the writers and actually changed their lives; for example, Shelley and Byron might never have met if Mary Shelley's stepsister, Claire Clairmont, hadn't decided to basically throw herself at Byron (something she may have lived to regret, but which certainly influenced literary history). The other major theme of the book, of course, is the way that women so often suffered from the way men used them to explore their own ideals. Sometimes this was because the women were manipulated or forced into situations, but at other times, the women were unaware that their actions would be perceived differently because they were women (see again: Claire Clairmont). I enjoyed very much learning more about Claire Clairmont and the Hunt family, especially Leigh Hunt's sister-in-law, Bess Kent. I would have liked more about Keats, but maybe he was too much the upstanding young man I always assumed him to be and therefore there wasn't enough juicy gossip. This book did absolutely nothing to disabuse me of the sense I've always had that Percy Shelley was a complete asshole. Overall, this was a great read, very well-written and totally addictive. I wish Hay would write a similar book about Dickens and his circle; I would certainly read it!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    The classic image of the Romantic poets is that of the solitary genius, deriving inspiration externally from nature and internally from some ineffable commune between the soul and its Muse. Daisy Hay sets out to refute this notion, highlighting just how intertwined were the lives of the most famous Romantics, how much they influenced and inspired one another, and how much friendship and the commune of minds influenced their personal and political outlooks on life. The most famous example of this The classic image of the Romantic poets is that of the solitary genius, deriving inspiration externally from nature and internally from some ineffable commune between the soul and its Muse. Daisy Hay sets out to refute this notion, highlighting just how intertwined were the lives of the most famous Romantics, how much they influenced and inspired one another, and how much friendship and the commune of minds influenced their personal and political outlooks on life. The most famous example of this poetic network is that of the 1817 summer meeting of Shelley and his wife, Mary, Claire Clairmont and Lord Byron on the shores of Lake Geneva, the meeting that inspired Frankenstein among other creative endeavours - but this is just one example among many of the 'web' that entangled the Shelleys, Byron, Keats, Hazlitt, Haydon, Leigh Hunt, Charles and Mary Lamb, and on the periphery older Romantics like Coleridge and Wordsworth. Daisy Hay's book reads almost like fiction, so interesting and dramatic were the lives of these individuals - although few of the men emerge as especially 'romantic' or appealing figures, too self-centred and wrapped up in their own importance and poetic genius for modern tastes. As one might expect from a female author, the women are not given as short shrift as they often are when focusing on the lives of famous men - indeed, if any notable figure is neglected here, it's probably Keats. All in all, an excellent read and one I could recommend to anyone even tangentially interested in the Romantic poets - if someone like myself, who loathes Romantic poetry and breaks out in hives when someone even begins to utter 'I wandered lonely as a cloud', can enjoy this book, it truly deserves its acclaim.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    An engaging group biography -- there aren't many new revelations here if you're familiar with the lives of the major figures, but by focusing on the relationships (personal, professional, romantic and familial, and occasionally all of the above) amongst her subjects the author provides a deeper context for their lives than is often available in individual biographies. It also allows for a greater focus on the women of the group, since with the exception of Mary Shelley none achieved the prominen An engaging group biography -- there aren't many new revelations here if you're familiar with the lives of the major figures, but by focusing on the relationships (personal, professional, romantic and familial, and occasionally all of the above) amongst her subjects the author provides a deeper context for their lives than is often available in individual biographies. It also allows for a greater focus on the women of the group, since with the exception of Mary Shelley none achieved the prominence of men like Byron and Shelley and Keats and thus have tended to be cast as supporting players in other people's stories. It is the women's stories I found most interesting, as the book traces the higher cost they paid for their choice to reject convention. As Hay writes, "[Mary Shelley, Clair Clairemont and Bess Kent] had learnt of the reality of free love back in the 1810s, when their unorthodox living arrangements, and the ideals of Shelley and Hunt, had variously exposed their lives to public scrutiny and, in the case of Mary and Claire, their bodies to illegitimate pregnancy.... Now that the men of the group were dead, or living abroad,the women were left behind to count the cost of youthful idealism: damaged reputations, limited earning capacity, and exclusion from polite society."

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