On Tuesday 21 November at 5pm, don’t miss Prof. Michael Rossington’s talk ‘Mary Shelley’s Symposium: the ruling principle of love in Valperga’, on the influences of Plato and Machiavelli in Mary Shelley’s novel Valperga.
Mary Shelley transcribed Percy Shelley’s translation of Plato’s dialogue on love, Symposium, the year after ‘she first thought of’ her novel Valperga (1823), ‘at Marlow’ in 1817. Noting in the Preface to Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments (1840) that ‘[n]o prose author in the history of mankind has exerted so much influence over the world as Plato’, she describes the Greek philosopher as ‘the creator of much of the purity of sentiment which in another guise was adopted by the founders of chivalry’. Valperga frames Euthanasia, a character of Mary Shelley’s invention, in a critical relationship to medieval chivalry. Euthanasia does not belong to ‘public histories’ and resists the understanding of ‘[questions] of state’ of the war-lord Castruccio. For Euthanasia, ‘the state’ is ‘a fiction, which sacrifices that which constitutes it, to the support of its mere name’, whereas ‘Love [...] is the ruling principle of my mind’. Just as Mary Shelley describes Symposium as a ‘drama’, so Valperga may be read as a dramatic treatise on love that is also in dialogue with Plato’s Republic, as well as The Prince by Machiavelli, one of Castruccio’s first biographers.
Michael Rossington is Professor in Romantic Literature in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University, UK. He has published mainly on the writings of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. He is one of the editors of The Poems of Shelley, Vol. 3 (Longman, 2009).