Readers “divided into two classes”: “I am to justify his ways; I am to make him beloved to all posterity,” pledged Mary Shelley as her late husband's editor, aware that many thought her an unworthy mate. She proved herself with considerable labor: Posthumous Poems in 1824; two editions of Poetical Works in 1839; a volume of essays, letters, translations, and fragments the next year; and across the 1830s, the development of a mainstream audience with the literary remains she placed in the Keepsake, one of the gift-book annuals. The 1839 Works was the canonizing event, the “first stone of a monument due to Shelley's genius, his sufferings, and his virtues” (PW I Preface XVI). This monument was, in no small part, a reconstruction: a plan to rationalize and mediate a poetry of “mystic subtlety” or “huntings after the obscure” (xiii), and a plea of “extenuation” for “whatever faults” the poet had (viii), especially atheism and sedition. In giving “the productions of a sublime genius to the world, with all the correctness possible” (vii), more was involved than redemptive service to the poet: justifying the poet's ways to man, the editor also meant to redeem her worth to him. Across her volumes, she emerges as a uniquely privileged mediator, the intimate who is the poet's ideal, best reader. For this office, she had ready resources: her intimacy with the poet from 1814 on, her literate sympathy for his poetry and, not the least, her possession of much of his unpublished work.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Arts and Humanities(all)