A major figure among the English Romantic poets, Shelley led an unconventional life and died tragically young.
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on 4 August 1792 near Horsham in Sussex. His father was an member of parliament. Shelley was educated at Eton and at Oxford University. There he began to read radical writers such as Tom Paine and William Godwin. In 1811, he was expelled for his contribution to a pamphlet supporting atheism.
Shelley then eloped to Scotland with 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook. The resulting scandal caused a serious rift with his family. Harriet and Shelley had two children, but soon separated. In 1813, Shelley published his first serious work, 'Queen Mab'.
In 1814, Shelley fell in love with Mary, the 16-year-old daughter of writers William Godwin (a friend of Shelley's) and Mary Wollstonecraft. The couple travelled together in Europe and spent the summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva with Lord Byron. Shelley wrote poetry and Mary conceived the idea for her novel 'Frankenstein'.
In December 1816, Shelley and Mary were married, just a few weeks after Harriet had drowned herself. In 1818, Shelley took his family to Italy where they moved from city to city. Two of the Shelley's children died and Mary herself suffered a nervous breakdown. Nonetheless, this was the most productive period of Shelley's life. Poems included 'Prometheus Unbound' (1818-19) and 'Adonais' (1821), inspired by the death of his friend and fellow poet John Keats.
In April 1822, the Shelleys settled on the bay of Lerici on the north-western Italian coast. On 8 July, Shelley was returning from visiting his friends Lord Byron and James Leigh Hunt when his boat overturned and he was drowned. He was cremated and his ashes placed in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, where Keats was also buried.
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