This provocative study assesses at length and in detail the validity and significance of the claim, first made in 1863, that Shelley suffered throughout his life from a youthful contraction of venereal disease. The authors have undertaken vigourous research and consulted little-known medical works of the period 1780–1830 (including a number by Shelley's own doctors), and have interwoven their examination with a description of early nineteenth-century attitudes towards venereal disease (which parallel in some respects present-day fears raised by the threat of AIDS). The book is not, however, simply an investigation of a biographical mystery. The authors' cardinal aim is to reveal the importance of the meaning of disease and healing in Shelley's poetry. They document through specific and concrete textual analysis the extent to which the image of venereal plague functions for Shelley as a metaphor of evil, and they show how his schoolboy fascination with the panacea and his fugitive ambition to be a doctor were transmitted into a passionate belief in the power of poetry to act as society's medicine.
List of illustrations; Preface; Acknowledgements; 1. The ancient infirmity; 2. From natural magic to natural science: Eton 1804–1810; 3. Arsenic and aquafortis: Oxford 1810–1811; 4. The mill-wheel's sound; 5. Love and vegetables 1811–1813; 6. Elephantiasis; 7. Pale pain, my shadow 1814–1822; 8. The myth of syphilis; 9. Nightshade, well, forest; 10. White hair and frail form; 11. Evil, the immedicable plague; 12. Egyptian bondage: Charles the First and The Triumph of Life; Notes; Notes on texts; Symbols, short titles and abbreviations; Index.
This provocative study assesses the claim that Shelley suffered throughout his life from a youthful contraction of venereal disease and reveals the importance of meaning of disease and healing in Shelley's poetry.
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