Percy Bysshe Shelley was a social and political radical who despite being philosophically opposed to marriage, twice found himself at the altar. His second wife was Mary Godwin (who later wrote Frankenstein) and they remained together until his death, but he had many emotional entanglements with other women, inspiring some of his most powerful love-poetry. Censured by mainstream English society because of their politics and his atheism, the Shelleys set up home in Italy as one of a loose group of exiles, frequently moving house to escape ex-patriate opprobrium, disagreements, creditors or simply to seek new experiences.
A Voice of One Delight retells the events surrounding Shelley’s death in the bay of La Spezia on 8 July 1822, along with his friend Williams. As a result of quarantine laws the mens’ bodies couldn’t be repatriated to England and arrangements were made to cremate them on the beach where they had been washed ashore. Louis Edouard Fournier’s highly romanticised painting The Burial of Shelley (shown above) provided the original inspiration for A Voice of One Delight.
The narrative is told in the words of what came to be known as the ‘Pisan Circle’: Shelley and Mary; Edward Williams, the husband of his last muse Jane; Lord Byron; Leigh Hunt, with whom Shelley and Byron had hoped to found a new literary journal called ‘The Liberal’; Edward John Trelawny, the adventurer who attached himself to their group and wrote profitable memoirs in his later years chronicling the events in Italy. The primary sources for the project included letters, journals, poems and critical essays. The settings of verses from Shelley’s final lyric poems addressed to Jane provide an emotional and musical thread through the piece and remain unchanged from the original version.