The Poems of Shelley. Volume Two: 1817-1819. Ed. Kelvin Everest and Geoffrey Matthews. Contributing Ed. Jack Donovan, Ralph Pite and Michael Rossington. Harlow: Longman, 2000. ISBN: 0 582 03082 X. Price: £95 (US$124.95).[Record]

  • Lisa Vargo

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  • Lisa Vargo
    University of Saskatchewan

It is useful to remember that the current state of textual editing of poems by Percy Shelley has its roots in a forty-year-old scholarly debate. In the early 1960s Donald Reiman published an essay taking issue with two then recently published essays by G.M. Matthews. While the substance of the argument concerns the status of Shelley's feelings for Jane Williams, its larger import is the use of biographical evidence to interpret "The Triumph of Life," the poem Shelley left unfinished at the time of his death. And these interpretive disputes are also evident in the editions that they produced of the poem—Matthews in a 1960 article in Studia Neophilologica and Reiman in his 1965 University of Illinois edition. The ongoing debate between these two scholars based on their separate examination of the Bodleian manuscript of the fragment led to Matthews' review of Reiman in JEGP (1967) and culminated in "a discussion by Matthews and Reiman held at the Bodleian Library in August 1971 with the manuscript before them." (Reiman and Powers 455) That must have been quite a conversation. Reiman suggests his version of "The Triumph of Life" in the Norton Critical edition (co-edited with Sharon Powers) is slightly revised as a result of the review and the conversation. It is particularly fitting then that these two distinguished editors should be associated with two excellent editions of Shelley's poetry currently in process in the United States and in the United Kingdom. While the projected seven-volume Johns Hopkins Complete Poems by Donald Reiman and Neil Fraistat, with Nora Crook's assistance, will be exhaustive and authoritative, the more compact three-volume Longman Poems of Shelley, which Kelvin Everest took over after the death of G. M. Matthews in 1984, is no less significant a contribution to Shelley studies. Along with the editions of the Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics and The Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts Reiman directed for Garland Press, Shelley scholars will benefit from the ongoing dialogue that these different texts will produce once they appear in their entirety. The second volume in the Matthews and Everest project, published in 2000, covers poetry and translations Shelley composed between 1817 and 1819, from drafts of Laon and Cythna through The Cenci. As Kelvin Everest notes, much has changed since the appearance of Volume One in 1989, including the existence of the thirty-one volume Garland series of facsimiles of manuscripts, as well as scholarly editions from Pickering and Chatto of works by William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary Shelley. This plethora of material led Everest to recognize that a single editor was no longer a practical option, and therefore to recruit three contributing editors. Jack Donovan has edited Laon and Cythna, including drafts and fragments, Ralph Pite "Julian and Maddalo," and Michael Rossington The Cenci and an account of the history of the Cenci story. If collaborative efforts all too often worked to the detriment of the production of Shelley's texts during his lifetime, only good seems to have come of this venture, in which the contributing editors have not only taken primary responsibility for their own sections, but have also contributed to Everest's own work in the volume. And as Everest makes clear, the influence of Geoffrey Matthews still presides, and he is properly and respectfully named as co-editor. Not merely a symbolic tribute, the conception and editorial principles that Matthews brought to the project are preserved even as the current editors are sensitive to how editing has changed in the intervening years. The ground rules for a project that has a number of years to completion ...