Louis Edouard Fournier, The Funeral of Shelley, 1889

Percy Bysshe Shelley was a tour-de-force Romantic poet. By the time of his death, just before his 30th birthday, he was already famous for numerous poems and his philosophical masterpiece Prometheus Unbound from 1820. He held radical views about economics, morality, and using non-violent means of revolution that influenced thinkers from Karl Marx to Mahatma Gandhi. Shelley had a group of progressive thinkers around him, including his second wife Mary Shelley, best known for her masterpiece Frankenstein.

On July 8, 1822 Shelley drown (with two other men) in his sailing boat in the Gulf of La Spezia when a sudden storm came on. Some think that he was depressed and wanted to die, while others have come up with all kinds of conspiracy theories about murder, but in all likelihood, poor ship design and poor navigation skills is probably what killed him. Fournier depicts the funeral on the beach at Viareggio with Shelley’s friends and fellow writers Edward John Trelawny, Leigh Hunt, and Lord Byron. Mary Shelley is seen behind them kneeling, although this is an invention of Fournier; women were not allowed to attend funerals in pre-Victorian times for health reasons.

Leave a Reply