Harriet Shelley (Westbrook) (1795 - 1816)

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Managed by: Leonie Doorey
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About Harriet Shelley (Westbrook)

ww.online-literature.com/shelley_percy/ After Shelley’s expulsion from school for expressing his atheistic views, and now estranged from his father, he eloped with sixteen-year old Harriet Westbrook (1795-1816) to Scotland. They married on 28 August 1811 and would have two children, daughter Ianthe born in 1813 (d.1876) and son Charles born in 1814. Inviting college friend Thomas Hogg into their household, Shelley attempted an open marriage to the consternation of Harriet, which led to the demise of their marriage. For the next three years Shelley made several trips to London to the bookshop and home of atheist journalist William Godwin, the father of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (1797-1851). Influenced by William Wordsworth, he continued to write poetry including Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem (1813) and participated in various political reform activities. He was also studying the writings of Godwin’s and embracing his radical philosophy.

Percy Shelley’s forays to the Godwin’s also resulted in his acquaintance with his daughter Mary, who almost immediately proved to be his intellectual equal. The poets’ fondness for each other soon grew and in 1814, Shelley eloped a second time with Mary and her stepsister Claire in tow, settling in Switzerland. This action drew the disapproval of both their fathers, and they struggled to support themselves. The Shelley’s were spending much time with Lord George Gordon Byron who also led a controversial life of romantic entanglements and political activity. Shelley was passionate about life and very generous to his friends, which often caused him financial hardship. They passed their days sailing on the lake and telling each other ghost stories. Mary overheard Percy and Byron speaking one night of galvanism, which inspired her most famous novel Frankenstein or; The Modern Prometheus (1818) and which Percy wrote the introduction for.

In 1815 the Shelley’s moved back to England and settled near London. The same year Percy’s grandfather died leaving him a lucrative sum of £1000 per annum. The year 1816 was filled with highs and lows for Shelley. His wife Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine river in Hyde Park, London and Mary’s half sister Fanny committed suicide, but son William was born (d.1819) and he and Mary wed on 30 December. “Alastor or; The Spirit of Solitude” was published in 1816 and their joint effort based on their travels History of Six Weeks Tour was published in 1817.

In 1818, the Shelley’s moved to Italy and their son Percy Florence was born a year later. Advocates of vegetarianism, the Shelley’s wrote numerous articles about the subject. Percy was working on his tragedy in five acts The Cenci and many other works including “Men of England” and his elegy for John Keats “Adonais” (1821). Mary too was busy writing while they lived in various cities including Pisa and Rome. Shelley continued to venture on sailing trips on his schooner ‘Don Juan’. It sank on 8 July 1822 in a storm and Shelley drowned, at the age of twenty-nine. His body washed ashore and he was cremated on the beach near Viareggio. His ashes are buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, Italy.

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Harriet Shelley's Timeline

1795
1795
1811
August 28, 1811
Age 16
1813
1813
Age 18
1814
1814
Age 19
1816
1816
Age 21
1819
1819
Age 21