Readersforum's Blog

March 10, 2013

Shelley’s most scandalous poem: but who really censored it?

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

A recently discovered copy of the uncensored poem suggests someone other than Shelley amended The Revolt of Islam

By Felicity Capon

New light has been shed on the story surrounding the publication of Shelley’s The Revolt of Islam, his epic romance of nearly 5,000 lines in Spenserian stanzas.

Whilst it is common knowledge that the poem was censored due to its anti-religious content and incest theme, it has always been assumed that Shelley himself made the amendments.

But the discovery of a copy of the original printing of the uncensored poem has led Nora Crook and Stephen Allen, writing in the Times Literary Supplement to believe that someone other than Shelley made the amendments.

The story surrounding the poem has been well-documented. What originally began as Laon and Cythna was revised, after a group of Shelley’s friends and publishers, alerted by the printer, urged Shelley to amend its subversive content.

Shelley’s publisher, Charles Ollier, along with Thomas Love Peacock, Shelley’s friend and neighbour, Mary Shelley and her stepsister Claire Clairmont, met with the poet on December 15, 1817 at his house in Great Marlow. They were alarmed by the anti-religious nature of the poem and its incestuous content. Both Ollier and the printer, Buchanan McMillan, would have faced prosecution for blasphemous libel if the poem was ever published.

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