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This book tells the tale of Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose life was singularly interesting and diverse. His friends unanimously testify that his character was one of gentleness, purity, generosity and strong affection. As a poet, he stands in the front rank and in some of his shorter poems he is unsurpassed. During his short life of 30 years, he was not the object of much sev This book tells the tale of Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose life was singularly interesting and diverse. His friends unanimously testify that his character was one of gentleness, purity, generosity and strong affection. As a poet, he stands in the front rank and in some of his shorter poems he is unsurpassed. During his short life of 30 years, he was not the object of much severe judgment and his poetic power was recognized by only a few.


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This book tells the tale of Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose life was singularly interesting and diverse. His friends unanimously testify that his character was one of gentleness, purity, generosity and strong affection. As a poet, he stands in the front rank and in some of his shorter poems he is unsurpassed. During his short life of 30 years, he was not the object of much sev This book tells the tale of Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose life was singularly interesting and diverse. His friends unanimously testify that his character was one of gentleness, purity, generosity and strong affection. As a poet, he stands in the front rank and in some of his shorter poems he is unsurpassed. During his short life of 30 years, he was not the object of much severe judgment and his poetic power was recognized by only a few.

30 review for Ariel or the Life of Shelley

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alex Gregory

    The book that started it all. Nobody could have predicted that Penguin Books' first title, the inauspicious "Ariel" by French biographer Andre Maurois, could have (in part) jumpstarted a company that's still chugging along 80 years later, still as strong as ever. In retrospect, this was a quirky, strange choice for the flagship title of a new publishing brand. Released in 1935, the book focuses on the life and times of Percy Shelley, a famous English Romantic poet who grew up amid tumultuous circu The book that started it all. Nobody could have predicted that Penguin Books' first title, the inauspicious "Ariel" by French biographer Andre Maurois, could have (in part) jumpstarted a company that's still chugging along 80 years later, still as strong as ever. In retrospect, this was a quirky, strange choice for the flagship title of a new publishing brand. Released in 1935, the book focuses on the life and times of Percy Shelley, a famous English Romantic poet who grew up amid tumultuous circumstances that eventually earned him the name "Mad Shelley". Really, Ariel can be best summed up as "Trauma Conga Line: The Book". Shelley goes through circumstances that are so numerous and tragic that it almost reads like a nihilistic fable. Dealing with tormenting teenagers at school, being expelled from Oxford University for writing a pamphlet talking about atheism, having a falling-out with his father, unhappy marriages, his first wife committing suicide after he had an affair, and on and on and on. The fact that he drowned after his boat, the titular Ariel, sank (and that might not have even been seaworthy, according to his widow, the famous Mary Shelley) lends a darkly tragicomic capper to the whole tale. The book itself is a decent read, though it obviously features a lot of dated and uncomfortable slang (namely, the usage of the term "fagging", which refers to schoolboys forcing others to act as glorified servants for them). The material itself is also a bit sensationalized at points, especially in the descriptions of certain events and conversations. It really does read like a product of its time. Also, Shelley's relationship with Mary Godwin neglects a lot of information about her future achievements and works, though it does do a good job talking about their relationship in general. Nonetheless, Ariel is an interesting piece of historical fiction, and set the stage very well for the hundreds of Penguin books (encompassing all different genres) to follow over the years.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Clarke

    A delightful book; exemplary in its professional technique and craft. It's a fictionalised biography of Shelly, and is a wonderful introduction to the major events of his life. It's getting 4 stars from me because it is such a pleasant read in contrast to Sharon Dogar's Monsters, which covers much the same ground but from Mary Shelly's perspective. Tim Martin in the Telegraph recently described Ariel as a "featherlight meringue of a book" that "would likely be mouldering at the bottom of history’ A delightful book; exemplary in its professional technique and craft. It's a fictionalised biography of Shelly, and is a wonderful introduction to the major events of his life. It's getting 4 stars from me because it is such a pleasant read in contrast to Sharon Dogar's Monsters, which covers much the same ground but from Mary Shelly's perspective. Tim Martin in the Telegraph recently described Ariel as a "featherlight meringue of a book" that "would likely be mouldering at the bottom of history’s compost heap if not for its connection to the most famous bird in 20th-century literature." (Ariel was the first ever Penguin paperback). I'll take featherlight meringue over a misshapen & unwillingly trudging carthorse of a book any day. The comparison shows how difficult it actually is to successfully translate biography into readable fiction. Ariel is featherlight, but it has pace, vivid characterisation, and packs in huge amounts of data into an all too brief 300 pages - in my 1930s hardback edition with large borders and type 150 pages fewer than Monsters. Maurois adopts an affectionately ironic tone towards all his characters, and utilises novelistic techniques of foreshadowing effectively to raise the drama of Shelley's death. He cleverly raises the emotional temperature in the final pages by juxtaposing lyrical landscape passages with the characters' differing emotional responses (Mary and Jane bleakly bereft, silent; Byron ambivalent yet shocked; Trelawney violently grieving and demonstrative; the Italian children bystanders myth-creating) and some gory, specific detail on the decaying bodies and cremation on the beach. But everything lightly touched, not overdone. These days we would expect to have Mary's achievements as a writer - Frankenstein came out in 1818, a few years before his death - at least name-checked. But Shelly's poetry itself is barely mentioned in the book, and none of his radical politics or influence.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Free download available at Project Gutenberg English version as well: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/64118 I made the proofing of this book for Free Literature and it will be published by Project Gutenberg. On a souhaité faire, en ce livre, œuvre de romancier bien plutôt que d'historien ou de critique. Sans doute les faits sont vrais et l'on ne s'est permis de prêter à Shelley ni une phrase, ni une pensée qui ne soient indiquées dans les mémoires de ses amis, dans ses lettres, dam ses poèmes; mais Free download available at Project Gutenberg English version as well: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/64118 I made the proofing of this book for Free Literature and it will be published by Project Gutenberg. On a souhaité faire, en ce livre, œuvre de romancier bien plutôt que d'historien ou de critique. Sans doute les faits sont vrais et l'on ne s'est permis de prêter à Shelley ni une phrase, ni une pensée qui ne soient indiquées dans les mémoires de ses amis, dans ses lettres, dam ses poèmes; mais on s'est efforcé d'ordonner ces éléments véritables de manière à produire l'impression de découverte progressive, de croissance naturelle qui semble le propre du roman. Que le lecteur ne cherche donc id ni érudition, ni révélations, et s'il n'a pas le goût vif des éducations sentimentales, qu'il n'ouvre pas ce petit ouvrage. Ceux qui, curieux d'histoire, désireront confronter ce récit avec d'autres, trouveront à la fin du volume une liste de sources accessibles.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Doris H

    Ariel, or The Life of Shelley (1923) “How brutally mistaken men have been about him! He was without exception the best and least selfish man I ever knew. And as perfect a gentleman as ever crossed a drawing-room.” - Lord Byron And here’s the biography that does Percy Bysshe Shelley justice. Unfortunately his portrayal in the media has always been scandalous or shameful which never sat right with me. André Maurois not only beautifully told us the life of such a kind soul, but also made me incandes Ariel, or The Life of Shelley (1923) “How brutally mistaken men have been about him! He was without exception the best and least selfish man I ever knew. And as perfect a gentleman as ever crossed a drawing-room.” - Lord Byron And here’s the biography that does Percy Bysshe Shelley justice. Unfortunately his portrayal in the media has always been scandalous or shameful which never sat right with me. André Maurois not only beautifully told us the life of such a kind soul, but also made me incandescently fall in love with Percy. That free spirit of his, his romantic nature, his tendency of saving the world and the way he fought for what he believed in, made him the genius that he was. No wonder not many people understood him. Every single page of this book is special, we learn about Shelley and his loved ones, nevertheless we also witness what a brilliant writer Maurois was. His research into the characters’ lives and penmanship is formidable and memorable. I didn’t want this book to finish because its epilogue meant Ariel’s end and it was hard to let go. He will forever be for me the guy who always carried a book in his pocket and the ultimate romantic daydreamer. Once more, French literature at its finest. André Maurois has easily become a favourite ♥️

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier

    It is the book that changed my life when I was 15. Here's my participation in French to a survey (tell us about the book that changed your life /why?) initiated by François Busnel for his lit. program (La Grande Librairie) on French channel 5 , (http://culturebox.francetvinfo.fr/cul...) Je vais avoir 60 ans. Je suis originaire de Sète, j’avais une grand-mère italienne. Je suis allée à Rome pourtant pour la première fois en mai dernier. Ma première visite, celle qui s’imposa à moi de toute évidenc It is the book that changed my life when I was 15. Here's my participation in French to a survey (tell us about the book that changed your life /why?) initiated by François Busnel for his lit. program (La Grande Librairie) on French channel 5 , (http://culturebox.francetvinfo.fr/cul...) Je vais avoir 60 ans. Je suis originaire de Sète, j’avais une grand-mère italienne. Je suis allée à Rome pourtant pour la première fois en mai dernier. Ma première visite, celle qui s’imposa à moi de toute évidence, fut pour la Maison-musée dédiée à Keats et Shelley. Percy Bysshe Shelley a doucement accompagné ma vie depuis mon adolescence. Mes parents aimaient les livres, au point d’en acheter tout le temps. Amazon les aurait ruinés si le commerce en ligne avait existé dans les années 60, car ils achetaient déjà par correspondance. Parmi ceux-là, il y eut cette collection de 16 livres reliés, 4 de 4 auteurs, André Maurois, Hervé Bazin, Jean Giono et François Mauriac. J’avais 14/15 ans, je les ai tous lus. C’est ainsi que je découvris ‘Ariel ou La Vie de Shelley’ d’André Maurois. Immédiatement conquise, je comparais ma vie d’adolescente incomprise et réprimée, éprise de liberté et rêvant d’horizons nouveaux à celle de Shelley. J’épousais ses révoltes, je voyageais dans l’Angleterre du début du 19ème siècle et je devenais la compagne, la muse du poète. Je le voyais beau, séduisant, sensible. Quand presque toutes mes copines ne juraient que par Baudelaire, moi c’était Shelley. Il me rendait différente, originale et unique. Il arrivait à point dans la tourmente de mes 15 ans. J’achetais ses poèmes en collection bilingue, je commençais un journal intime dans lequel je m’adressais à lui. Le changement qui allait intervenir ne s’arrêta pas à cette passion adolescente qu’un livre avait déclenchée, et qui aurait pu disparaitre comme elle avait apparu, le temps d’une crise. Plus tard je passais une année en Angleterre, j’avais à cœur de parler couramment sa langue, j’étudiais l’anglais, je devenais finalement professeur d’anglais. J’aurais tellement la passion de cette langue, qu’au jour d’aujourd’hui 90% de mes lectures concernent des auteurs anglophones que je lis évidemment en version originale. Imaginez le bonheur, la passion, les rencontres ! Un demi-siècle plus tard ou presque, je caresse souvent du regard ce livre, resté dans la maison familiale – sans oser le relire, c’est un objet devenu sacré.

  6. 5 out of 5

    T.D. Whittle

    I really liked this book but it's best described as a novel based on the life of Shelley, rather than a biography. Maurois leaps into the narrative to describe feelings, thoughts, and behaviours that are unknown to us as facts, so can only be imagined. This tends to annoy me in biographies. I don't like the modern tendency of authors to assume the feelings of the persons they write about, and I especially dislike when they psychoanalyse them (as Judith Thurman does throughout her book on Colette I really liked this book but it's best described as a novel based on the life of Shelley, rather than a biography. Maurois leaps into the narrative to describe feelings, thoughts, and behaviours that are unknown to us as facts, so can only be imagined. This tends to annoy me in biographies. I don't like the modern tendency of authors to assume the feelings of the persons they write about, and I especially dislike when they psychoanalyse them (as Judith Thurman does throughout her book on Colette, for instance). Maurois mostly avoids that, so I let go the idea of the book as biography and enjoyed Ariel as I would one of his novels.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vicki Kondelik

    Ariel by André Maurois is a fictionalized biography of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Shelley, the son of a wealthy landowner, went to school at Eton, where he was bullied. He was expelled from Oxford for publishing a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism. His father was enraged when he heard about this pamphlet, and this caused him to break off relations with his son; the two of them were never reconciled. Shelley married 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook, a friend of his sisters, rescui Ariel by André Maurois is a fictionalized biography of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Shelley, the son of a wealthy landowner, went to school at Eton, where he was bullied. He was expelled from Oxford for publishing a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism. His father was enraged when he heard about this pamphlet, and this caused him to break off relations with his son; the two of them were never reconciled. Shelley married 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook, a friend of his sisters, rescuing her from a bad situation at home and school. But Harriet was not his intellectual equal, and their marriage was very unhappy. While still married to Harriet, Shelley fell in love with Mary Godwin, the daughter of his mentor, the philosopher William Godwin, and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died giving birth to her. Shelley left his wife and lived with Mary, which caused a huge scandal in society. Godwin would have nothing to do with the couple, even though he relied on Shelley to pay his debts. Harriet eventually committed suicide over her husband’s affair, even though, according to Maurois, she had suicidal tendencies all her life. Shelley and Mary married, and Godwin forgave them, but pretended they had not been living together for several years. Their troubles were far from over, though. A court refused to give Shelley custody of his two children by Harriet. He had several children by Mary, but all but one died as babies or small children. The couple spent much of their time in Italy, where Mary’s stepsister Claire lived with them. Claire had a brief affair with Lord Byron and gave birth to a daughter, but she really loved Shelley, and Mary became jealous. Maurois believes that the relationship between Shelley and Claire was innocent, but others disagree. Shelley died by drowning when his boat, the Ariel, sank. His poetic genius was never recognized during his lifetime, unlike that of his friend Byron, whose poems were the bestsellers of their time. Mary Shelley, of course, became the author of Frankenstein, but Maurois does not talk about Mary as an author, or even say much about Shelley’s poetry; the focus is on their relationship. But his book provides a very good introduction to Shelley.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paula Cappa

    I love historical fiction and Ariel was a great read, authentic, and even though some of it was a bit melodramatic, this story was a step into the past with vivid details and really fine characterizations. The edition I read was quite an old book. Some of the pages were actually crumbling as I tuned them. I felt I really got to know Percy B. Shelley. None of the other biographies I read brought me as deep as this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Blackson

    A well-written and interesting biography of Shelley the poet. Instead of cumbersome dates and details, it gives you a real feeling of what he was like as a person. His whole life, he vainly sought to find the perfect woman, but did, as he promised, dedicate his "whole life to the worship of beauty." A well-written and interesting biography of Shelley the poet. Instead of cumbersome dates and details, it gives you a real feeling of what he was like as a person. His whole life, he vainly sought to find the perfect woman, but did, as he promised, dedicate his "whole life to the worship of beauty."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Matthu Stull

    this was a bit of repitition from a previous bio i read, but the last few pages were intense due to the vivid desciption of Shelley's brains seething and boiling in his funeral pyre. Maurois does have a fanciful writing style that i enjoy, even if some of the transitions to quotations are smeary this was a bit of repitition from a previous bio i read, but the last few pages were intense due to the vivid desciption of Shelley's brains seething and boiling in his funeral pyre. Maurois does have a fanciful writing style that i enjoy, even if some of the transitions to quotations are smeary

  11. 5 out of 5

    Karyn

    1. Ariel: Andre Maurois 1. Ariel: Andre Maurois

  12. 4 out of 5

    Caspar Bryant

    A charming change of pace with this fairly vintage biography of (Percy) Shelley, written in the 20s, so I do my best to bring pinches of salt to it. It's also the very first Penguin! Ever. A lovely, though romanticised read - it's hard to deny that Maurois is at least a little in love with Percy Bysshe (a wonderful quality in a biographer), who is constantly described as appearing feminine and otherworldly, as if divine. So there's a good deal of apologetics here! Maurois does enjoy skating over A charming change of pace with this fairly vintage biography of (Percy) Shelley, written in the 20s, so I do my best to bring pinches of salt to it. It's also the very first Penguin! Ever. A lovely, though romanticised read - it's hard to deny that Maurois is at least a little in love with Percy Bysshe (a wonderful quality in a biographer), who is constantly described as appearing feminine and otherworldly, as if divine. So there's a good deal of apologetics here! Maurois does enjoy skating over the fact of Percy Bysshe's uncanny ability to entirely ruin the life of any woman that came within six feet. There's a real disservice to Harriet Westbrook, Shelley's first wife, whom Maurois insists (despite evidence to the contrary) was unworthy of Shelley's genius. There's a genuinely bizarre failure to understand why Mary Shelley, when hosting guests, was a little perturbed by the sudden appearance of Percy, naked and dripping with seaweed. This of course comes with the description of him being 'good to look at, his slender body wet and scented with the salt of the sea'. It's an easy read, and worth a look, though one must remember their grains of salt.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elena K

    I found all the main characters disgusting! Mary Shelley , I am disappointed in you. But the book is excellent.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ariel Greenwood

    The bells chimed thrice and work at the bookstore ended, as my coworker and I set off for the book thing. I found a brown leather bound book Ariel by Maurois and read it on a whim. A tall tale of the life of poet Percy Shelley or as his friends called him "the Elf-King or the King of Faery; he was known as Ariel and Oberon" a well-lived life of literary bohemians in the early 19th century. This aerial adventure, of one who walked through the woods with their head in the clouds living on flower c The bells chimed thrice and work at the bookstore ended, as my coworker and I set off for the book thing. I found a brown leather bound book Ariel by Maurois and read it on a whim. A tall tale of the life of poet Percy Shelley or as his friends called him "the Elf-King or the King of Faery; he was known as Ariel and Oberon" a well-lived life of literary bohemians in the early 19th century. This aerial adventure, of one who walked through the woods with their head in the clouds living on flower covered cottages, sending political pamphlets and poems to sea in green glass bottles, like a ship set sail travelled the worked from Ireland to Ravenna...inspiring, uplifting! Every story must end somewhere, these memories are ultimately a ship in a bottle...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Vintage Maurois... still not at the level of "The Three Titans", but wonderful nevertheless! Vintage Maurois... still not at the level of "The Three Titans", but wonderful nevertheless!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Richard Smith

    My blog on this book: https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/... My blog on this book: https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Greg Converse

    To be fair, I did not read the French version, but GoodReads does not have the English version. Good story, if you're interested in Percy Bysshe Shelley. To be fair, I did not read the French version, but GoodReads does not have the English version. Good story, if you're interested in Percy Bysshe Shelley.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Chels

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book makes you reflective. I really like the book, but I concluded that the main character (Shelley) was one of the most selfish people I've ever read about. This book makes you reflective. I really like the book, but I concluded that the main character (Shelley) was one of the most selfish people I've ever read about.

  19. 4 out of 5

    doug bowman

    Shelley is the original rock - and - roll star. I did a huge critique back in the Seventies.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Eugenia

    ako zjesť celú bomboniéru naraz. chutí, chutí ale na konci je vám už zle a nechcete viac.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dinithi

    Upon finishing this book I learned it was one of the first ever Penguin books published! How momentous! The book reads in a way that empathises with all characters but sympathises with Shelley. Interpreting Shelley is a different experience for a woman than it perhaps would be for a man. It accentuates fundamentals of various conflicts women have experienced over time - for example one in which she must refine her balance between masculine and feminine ideals. Shelley falls in love with women wh Upon finishing this book I learned it was one of the first ever Penguin books published! How momentous! The book reads in a way that empathises with all characters but sympathises with Shelley. Interpreting Shelley is a different experience for a woman than it perhaps would be for a man. It accentuates fundamentals of various conflicts women have experienced over time - for example one in which she must refine her balance between masculine and feminine ideals. Shelley falls in love with women who pursue masculine rationality AND with women who have feminine sensuality. He searches for a female ideal, and upon finding a candidate, he distinguishes her every flaw to prevent her from ever owning to the word. This is too common in my own experience, as well. There is something about the woman's enigma that is easy to portray once but apparently difficult to maintain. The diminishing fascination of others naturally confers bitterness and paranoia. While Shelley disavows the conventions of his time, his rose-tinted aspirations of romance reflect more our own. In setting standards for potential lovers, in expecting them to meet OUR expectations, we have transformed the selfless experience of love into a selfish one. In doing so, we doom our lovers and ourselves to unhappiness. Shelley's life seemed to end in frivolity because he spent too much time inside his own brain setting such standards and expectations of the simple to the complex. Where immersing himself in the material world would have been to explore the meaning of life, he spent his time contemplating it instead. This is probably why the licentiously portrayed Byron, rather than Shelley, continues to play on our lips today - for his pragmatic, embodied exploration of life. Shelley, whose notions are limited only to his pen, leaves his portrait to hang in a specific niche designated only for the romantic poets.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mark OceanG

    Ariel by André Maurois. First published in 1924 it was then republished as the first ever Penguin title. Which was the reason I read it, having picked up a 1985 box set of the first 10 Penguin books in a charity shop. I thought it was wonderful. I think it is probably difficult to write a fictional account of a historically accurate biography and make it engaging and ‘real’. But this account of romantic Poet Percy Shelly was funny, beautifully written, fast-paced, the characters were full of dep Ariel by André Maurois. First published in 1924 it was then republished as the first ever Penguin title. Which was the reason I read it, having picked up a 1985 box set of the first 10 Penguin books in a charity shop. I thought it was wonderful. I think it is probably difficult to write a fictional account of a historically accurate biography and make it engaging and ‘real’. But this account of romantic Poet Percy Shelly was funny, beautifully written, fast-paced, the characters were full of depth. So much information is packed in I feel like I’ve now completed a classics thesis on his life but without the chore that would undoubtedly be involved in academic study. Among other notable characters in his life was his second wife Mary Shelly (of Frankenstein fame) and Lord Byron (‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’...but in modern language we would likely call him ‘a dickhead’). I think you might only be able to buy second hand copies online now, perhaps it’s available on kindle, but I highly recommend it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Maurois is an enchanting author, as always. The fictional life of Shelley starts of as an amusing romp, around midpoint turns darker, as Maurois' eye becomes somewhat jaundiced. A contradictory creature, Shelley, who at least seems to have some virtues; and Byron, Mary Shelley, and the Godwins... well, they were all creepy to varying degrees. I reckon I would have been tempted to throttle any of them after a time in their company, as they left a trail of destruction and death behind them, protec Maurois is an enchanting author, as always. The fictional life of Shelley starts of as an amusing romp, around midpoint turns darker, as Maurois' eye becomes somewhat jaundiced. A contradictory creature, Shelley, who at least seems to have some virtues; and Byron, Mary Shelley, and the Godwins... well, they were all creepy to varying degrees. I reckon I would have been tempted to throttle any of them after a time in their company, as they left a trail of destruction and death behind them, protected by their wealth. Come to think of it, their are many artists today that evoke the same ambivalence. Still, an extraordinary character, and weird life and death story, very engagingly told. I'd now love to learn more about Claire Clairmont, and the other more peripheral peoples, with whom I'm left with more compassion than for Shelley.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Hugh Coverly

    A very good book but not great. It was good to read an early Maurois novel.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Tassé

  26. 4 out of 5

    Donald

  27. 4 out of 5

    Irina

  28. 4 out of 5

    Scott Lewis

  29. 5 out of 5

    Purdeyblackcat

  30. 5 out of 5

    Duncan Moonray

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