At fifteen Harriet Westbrook, the strikingly pretty and unworldly daughter of an exceptionally wealthy man, could look forward to making an advantageous marriage and enjoying a comfortable if conventional life. Instead she had the misfortune to encounter Percy Bysshe Shelley. Within months the controversial and precociously talented young poet, who regarded marriage as a ‘most despotic, most unrequired fetter’, had persuaded Harriet to elope with him to Scotland. Although theirs was a chaotic marriage, Harriet embraced her impoverished, itinerant existence with unfailing good humour. Her loyalty to her husband never wavered as he took up one hopeless cause after another and invited other women to share their home in pursuit of his madcap ambition to establish a utopian commune built on free love. Ultimately he betrayed her cruelly and his followers portrayed her as money grabbing, immoral and his intellectual inferior. The failure of her marriage was devastating for Harriet but worse times were to follow.
Meticulously researched and using rarely examined source documents to relate key events from Harriet’s unique perspective this book describes the extraordinary, disordered life of a sweet-natured but deeply troubled young woman and examines the considerable influence that Harriet had on her celebrated husband’s work, both in life and in death.
Eleanor Fitzsimons is a researcher, writer, journalist and occasional broadcaster. Her work has been published in a range of newspapers and journals including the Sunday Times, the Guardian and the Irish Times and she is a regular radio and television contributor. She has worked as the sole researcher on several primetime television programmes for the Irish national broadcaster, RTE including an examination of the historic relationship between Britain and Ireland commissioned to coincide with the landmark visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland. In 2011 she returned to Univer...
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