Shelly bemoans the failure of the Revolution

Laon and Cynthia; Or, the Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century (Reprint Services Edition) - Percy Bysshe Shelley

It seems that poor Percy Shelley had problems upsetting people with his poems because when he went to publish Laon and Cyntha in its original form the publishers refused to accept it and told him to pretty much rewrite it. Well, that is not surprising coming from publishers, particularly when one is writing something that is overtly political and, as in Shelley's case, anti-religious. As such he did rewrite it, titling it the Revolt of Islam despite the fact that it had nothing to do with Islam, expect in an allegorical sense.


In his introduction Shelley comments on literary critics and suggests that he is not writing this poem to please the literary critics since in doing so it can chain one's ability to write in the way that one really wishes to write. I sometimes wonder how many people write (whether it be books or movies) these days to simply warm up to the literary critic. In a sense the critic can effectively make or break a movie (or a book) and it is surprising how many people will actually pay attention to a critic. I must admit that I do, and I guess part of it has to do with there being so many books out there and not enough time to read all of them. I also guess that is why a website like Booklikes is also good because I can find out what a book is like (such as 50 Shades of Grey or Eat, Pray, Love) without having to waste my time actually reading it.


As for the poem, well it seems that despite his ranting about how he refuses to chain himself to the whims of the critic, he was forced to change his poem, but I suspect it has more to do with his publishers than the critics. Mind you, it is not as if Shelley really had to scrape money together to buy bread since it appears that he was independently wealthy, though I suspect that most of the writers (and composers) in those days generally were financially sufficient. It would have something to do with the fact that only the middle and upper classes who tended to be literate. It is only from the mid-nineteenth century that we begin to see the lower classes becoming literate as well (though I have been to places where there is a high level of illiteracy – hold it, that could be Australia, couldn't it?).


Anyway, this poem is about revolution, and in a sense it a dirge about the failure of the French Revolution. The date of composition is pretty much after the Congress of Vienna which decided on how to move forward after the wholesale destruction of the Napoleonic Wars. I sort of wonder why Shelley mourns the failure of the revolution after the restoration of the French Monarch when it was quite clear that the revolution had finally come full swing with the ascension of Napoleon to the position of Emperor of France. It probably had something to do with Napoleon not actually being an aristocrat. Still, his so called Republics where little more than puppet states ruled by members of his family and were subservient to him. Despite the fact that Napoleon was not a member of any royal family does not mean that he was not an autocrat - he was.


I guess the problem was not so much the fact that French remained an autocracy, but rather that after the Congress of Vienna the monarchy was restablished in France with all of its attendant flaws. However, France could never go back to what it was like before the revolution. This had changed and changed drastically. Revolutionary fever was going to continue to boil up under the surface, and it would finally explode once again in 1848 when the monarch was swept from power and a new Napoleon would arise to take the throne.