So it’s a couple weeks after Shakespeare’s birthday, which is excuse for a bit of fun and fancy.
In Universe L (for Liminal Library), what is on your bookshelf?
In my corner of Universe LL, Percy Bysshe Shelley lived long enough that his family couldn’t reinvent him right down to altering his pictures; instead of dying young in a dramatic way, he went on to a varied if somewhat checkered life. For a time he kept writing razzle-dazzle essays and poems aimed at shocking his audience because it sold well, until his rivalry with Keats changed his career.
It brought out the best in both. On my shelves I keep their finest work side by side: first is Shelley’s verse novel The Electric Horseman, which is set after Mary’s Frankenstein when electrical men are common, made to be servants until the servant class revolts.
However, the inventors have come up with electrical horses that never need to be fed or rested, and that are faster than the noisy, smelly trains beginning to ruin the countryside in so appalling a manner. The inventors determine that only the intelligentsia may obtain an electrical horse, for they must keep ahead of the howling mob some way, and there is a war between the creator class in all their anarchical glory and the uneducated establishment.
Into it Shelley inserted so many satirical squibs of prominent figures that he discovered in himself a taste for travel, and went west to explore the frontier in the new republic. He was disappointed to discover that the ideal community of artists living in harmonic anarchy did not exist—that somebody must empty the chamber pots, and the women, reminding men of their equality, refused to empty anyone’s but their own. So he ended up in the western portion of Virginia, penning novels about mythic figures on the frontier that made him a fortune—one he never got to spend due to having to support the tribe of offspring he produced, though some of them were probably not even his.
Mary stayed loyal, though she quitted his household, which was too chaotic. Freed of the necessity of devoting her life to recreating Shelley as a saint, as 1824 came and went with no drastic accident, she discovered in herself a taste for the intellectual scene of Paris, and was soon writing for magazines on both sides of the water; her best correspondent was Claire Clairemont, who was still unable to write fiction without it being mimic of others’ work, but her vivid tales of travel around the world became the centerpiece of Mary’s new women’s magazine Pecksie’s Periodical.
Mary’s chief contributor to the fiction was Catherine Grace Gore, with her witty satires on the pompous side of high life. (Bulwer-Lytton soon discovered that writing dull stodge aimed at reinforcing moral precepts of the previous age did not sell, and he reaffirmed Pelham and began a series that pilloried high life from the male point of view.)
Shelley had left the poetic field to Keats, whose poetry and novels dominate the century. Each more brilliant than the last, and more insightful, Keats steadfastly refused to enter politics, though he was encouraged by all. Instead, after he finished reading Jane Austen’s tenth novel, and finished laughing, he responded to her trenchant woman’s-eye-view with his own novel. As a result he moved to Cambridge, where he taught literature as well as wrote, his wife, Professor Fanny, establishing the first classes that women were encouraged to attend.
Among both Keats’s students were a numerous family by the name of Bronte, living in the college he established for those whose families could not afford the regular fees. Thus it was that Anne Bronte, in collaboration with her sister Emily, inspired the rich field of children’s literature with their other-world fantasy series, Gondaland, bolstered by Branwell Bronte’s adult series Angria, from which Bram Stoker later took his inspiration.
Anyway, if anyone wants to play, what’s on your bookshelf in Universe LL?