49 pages 1 hour read

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1816

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Historical Context

Although written more than two decades after its tectonic impact on European history, Alastor owes much of its sense of both liberation and tragedy to the French Revolution. The revolution against the French monarchy majorly impacted the poets who have since been grouped as the Romantics, a name they never actually used to define themselves. Britain, locked within its own ages-old monarchial system, watched how after centuries of mistreatment and routine abuse, the working class of Paris rose up against the entrenched monarchy and demanded liberty and equality for all. That the revolution began with such heady and tonic optimism, touting a new era of individual dignity and opportunity, and so quickly collapsed of its own irony into anarchy in the streets and chaos in the government impacted Shelley, indeed Shelley’s entire generation. Like the philosopher-poets who instigated the French Revolution, Shelley’s Poet is at heart self-possessed, gentle, educated, but blasted by disappointments in the real-time world and ready to strike out toward an ideal. Shelley was a free thinker, a radical philosopher who vigorously advocated a wide variety of liberal ideas—workers’ rights, suffrage for women, the virtue of civil disobedience, pacifism, abolition, atheism—who saw in the monarchy a corrupt manifestation of unlicensed control by amoral elites that suffocated the individual and denied the individual the right to explore themselves, to assert the intellectual curiosity that Shelley was sure every person possessed.