When news of Percy Shelley’s death reached England in 1822, The Courier wrote, “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned; now he knows whether there is a God or no.’” Sixty-four years later, in 1886, Stopford Brooke rose to address the first meeting of the Shelley Society. He painted a very different picture of Shelley for his assembled listeners, who included several clergymen like himself. “[T]he world will always be grateful for the religious gravity in [Shelley’s] teaching,” he claimed, because “the method Shelley laid down for attaining the perfect state is that of Jesus Christ; and is stated by him with strong reiteration.” In a generation, Shelley had gone from being an infamous unbeliever, whose “reputation was that of an atheist and rebel who behaved abominably and wrote poetry,” to being a Christian teacher, and even a prophet. . . . Shelley’s atheism no longer embarrasses his readers, and we feel no need to rescue his poetry from his own unbelief. But throughout the nineteenth century, a number of clergy and laypeople conducted an informal campaign not only to make Shelley’s poetry acceptable to Christian readers but also to encourage them to see religious truths revealed in it. — Timothy Mole, “Converting Shelley”

Biographical Materials


Themes, Genre and Imagery — Sitemaps

Contexts — Sitemaps


Mole, Timothy. What the Victorians Made of Romanticism: Material Artifacts, Cultural Practices, and Reception History. Princeton: Princeton University press, 2018.

Incorporated in the Victorian Web in July 2000

Last modified 29 August 2018