Defence of Harriet Shelley

Defence of Harriet Shelley

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Defence of Harriet Shelley by Mark Twain

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Defence of Harriet Shelley

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Book Excerpt

ne at a time the contestants enter, clothed regardless of expense in what each considers the perfection of style and taste, and walk down the vacant central space and back again with that multitude of critical eyes on them. All that the competitor knows of fine airs and graces he throws into his carriage, all that he knows of seductive expression he throws into his countenance. He may use all the helps he can devise: watch- chain to twirl with his fingers, cane to do graceful things with, snowy handkerchief to flourish and get artful effects out of, shiny new stovepipe hat to assist in his courtly bows; and the colored lady may have a fan to work up her effects with, and smile over and blush behind, and she may add other helps, according to her judgment. When the review by individual detail is over, a grand review of all the contestants in procession follows, with all the airs and graces and all the bowings and smirkings on exhibition at once, and this enables the bench of experts to make the necessary com

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This is classified as satire, but there's little of the joshing incredulity that you find in Twain's skewering of Fenimore Cooper. This is an angry, sometimes sarcastic Mark Twain, responding to Edward Dowden's Life of Shelley, a book which implied Shelley's first wife (rather than the poet's philandering) caused the break-up of their marriage and her suicide, and that she was unfaithful to him.

Twain reams out Dowden, attacking his prose, his insinuations, his evidence, and his honesty. Twain's own prose is convoluted, with a heightened vocabulary--the essay seems aimed at a university, or at least educated, audience, rather than the common reader. Don't expect Tom Sawyer.
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