Mary Shelley wrote the largest amount of literary biography at a time when the British reading public was particularly eager for this genre. This essay seeks to clarify the context of Shelley’s entrance into the biographical genre, and examines her own approach to biography by looking at her lives of contemporary Italian authors written for Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia and, more precisely, her ‘Life of Foscolo’, the sources of which will be reconsidered. As convincingly demonstrated by Jean de Palacio, Mary Shelley’s involvement with history and biography – directly via Godwin, and indirectly via Johnson – was a very early one. She came to consider biographical writing as a way of investigating history and producing a new philosophy of history through private stories. As a result, her contributions to Lardner’s Cabinet were not merely conventional ‘lives’, but also the records of the authors’ intimate experiences in their strong connections with specific environments. Shelley carefully reconstructed social and domestic relationships, and, through the simple procedure of foregrounding relevant issues, provided commentary on specific ‘political’ topics. Thus, she successfully deployed forms of participation, sympathy, and involvement in the public sphere without excessively exposing herself, because the publication was anonymous and also because she wrote about someone else’s experiences. Finally, the essay considers her ‘Life of Foscolo’ as the site of a series of comments that Mary Shelley will later reprise and re-elaborate in the political reflections offered by her 1844 Rambles in Germany and Italy.

Mary Shelley's Contributions to Lardner's Cabinet Cycolpaedia: Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men of Italy

GUERRA, LIA SIMONETTA
2005

Abstract

Mary Shelley wrote the largest amount of literary biography at a time when the British reading public was particularly eager for this genre. This essay seeks to clarify the context of Shelley’s entrance into the biographical genre, and examines her own approach to biography by looking at her lives of contemporary Italian authors written for Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia and, more precisely, her ‘Life of Foscolo’, the sources of which will be reconsidered. As convincingly demonstrated by Jean de Palacio, Mary Shelley’s involvement with history and biography – directly via Godwin, and indirectly via Johnson – was a very early one. She came to consider biographical writing as a way of investigating history and producing a new philosophy of history through private stories. As a result, her contributions to Lardner’s Cabinet were not merely conventional ‘lives’, but also the records of the authors’ intimate experiences in their strong connections with specific environments. Shelley carefully reconstructed social and domestic relationships, and, through the simple procedure of foregrounding relevant issues, provided commentary on specific ‘political’ topics. Thus, she successfully deployed forms of participation, sympathy, and involvement in the public sphere without excessively exposing herself, because the publication was anonymous and also because she wrote about someone else’s experiences. Finally, the essay considers her ‘Life of Foscolo’ as the site of a series of comments that Mary Shelley will later reprise and re-elaborate in the political reflections offered by her 1844 Rambles in Germany and Italy.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11571/24312
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