Dover Book

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    OH! My goodness, what a grueling book. I thought it would take me forever to read, but not because it was difficult, (I actually found it, for the most part, easy to breeze through). The Dover edition pictured is 342 pages, but the print is tiny and its dimensions much larger than normal-sized Dover literature editions. The tiny print, is usually reserved for their "Thrift Editions" which enables them to print a lot more words on less pages, thus making them "thrifty." Wikipedia has the original edition, published in 1826, eight years after Shelley's most famous novel, Frankenstein, at 479 pages.
    I have a lot to say about this novel, which I actually really liked, then I will share a bit about the book itself. In one sentence, the book is about a devastating plague that sweeps across the entire planet at the end of the twenty-first century (yes that would be us), and kills every human being (supposedly) except for one man. The book was absolutely hated in its time. Filled with Romantic symbolism, it is a biographical work, memorializing the death of the two people Shelley loved most: her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their close friend, the poet Lord Byron. The two main characters, Adrian, and Lord Raymond are based on these two men, and "The Last Man," Lionel Verney, is Shelley herself, faced with the monumental loss of losing both of these people at a tragically young age, Percy drowning in a boating accident and Lord Byron fighting in the war between Greece and the Turks. And according to the experts, the novel also is regarded as a repudiation of Romanticism and its failure to solve the world's problems through art and philosophy. I have two problems with the novel, one being that it is ultra-emotional, drooling, in fact, and certainly modern women would take offense at the level in which the wives gave themselves over to their husbands. However, the husbands also did the same, but their lives seemed to hover around the cement holding together the relationships, and when that was fractured, the characters fell to pieces. However, upon reading a bit about the lives of the Shelleys and Lord Byron, (and no doubt people in general from that time period), I guess that aspect of the characters was quite realistic! Talk about drama! I have to say, I am not familiar with the works of these two poets. Even though my knowledge of a great deal of literature is immense, I am still woefully ignorant of the greater body of poetry, which I am working to correct.
    And as for Romanticism, or the Romantic Era, Wikipedia's opening paragraph provides a clear definition, and is also a clue as to the style of Shelley's writing.

Romanticism (also known as the Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1890. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism, and nationalism.

    And so, the understanding of the style makes the comprehension of this book much more sensible. However, what does not make sense to me, and which I found to be a gargantuan flaw was the fact that, except for the fact that the current date of the story was provided, there was nothing else, no clues, that it did not take place in the nineteenth century. OH MY! The English countryside was still inhabited peasants and woodlands. There was no technology—NONE; no phones or communication other than letters and newspapers; people still traveled by horse and carriage!!! (and the occasional balloon), and spoke archaic language. I seriously wonder why Shelley had not a clue that these modes of life would not have been immensely advanced by 2073, when the story begins. That aspect of the story would have been much more credible had it been set in, for instance, the late 1800s—still "futuristic" but not ridiculous. Apparently not everyone was as infuriated as I am, and only a few of the good readers at Goodreads even mentioned it. I suggest you browse this page, by the way, because this novel has received a great many reviews. Opinions ranged far and wide from "loved it," to "hated it." I especially recommend the review by T.D. Whittle. Other than the fact that she is in error about its publication date, many of her views are the same as mine. And yes, I found myself, also, still reading at 2 am, until my eyes could no longer stay open. Other good readers here, however, found it slow and difficult.
    And as far as Shelley's failure to imagine a future 300 years hence, let me remind you that there are many authors who have tackled that challenge with magnificent vision. For instance, Cyrano de Bergerac (yeah, the guy with the big nose), wrote A Voyage to the Moon in 1649-50! Granted, sci-fi was not a particularly recognized genre back in the 1600s, but by the 1800s, we have literary greats like Jules Verne, who not only let his imagination run wild, but backed up his works with mathematical calculations, such as in his two "Moon" books. Then H.G. Wells came along, and of course he is one of the early masters of sci-fi!. So, c'mon Mary, no excuse! If you wanted to write a Romantic Era novel, you should have set it in the nineteenth century.
    Ok, so I have supplied some of the technical comments concerning this book. Now, let me share my personal reflections. Oooh, what a downright depressing story this is, though totally absorbing. What made it so grueling is that we are approaching our own apocalypse seventy years earlier. Yes we ARE; don't argue. I think that is why I have felt so utterly haunted since I began reading it. In spite of my above comments, there are parts of it that are incredibly real and appropriate to present time. The first is the plague itself. While in the story, no one became infected and lived, with the exception of The Last Man, Lionel Verney. Of course most people are recovering from COVID-19. At this point. But as I have mentioned in my articles, very frequent of late, that it is my belief that this thing is gonna keep rolling around, returning, mutating into more and more virulent forms, and we see signs of that already. But what was even more distressing were the signs of societal and political upheaval, and wars based on oppression and greed, which is usually what wars are based on. As mentioned above, Lord Byron really did fight and was killed in the Greek War of Independence, but in the book, Lord Raymond insists on raiding Constantinople after the Muslims are banished, knowing full well that it was one of the hot-spots for the plague. It's called Greed and Lust for Power and Fame.
    But perhaps the absolute most chilling aspect of the story is that when the plague hits the world head-on, the weather begins to behave very strangely. OMG!! How prophetically disturbing. Parts of England are under water . . . OH MY! And this goes on and on for years. Winter is the time of respite, when the virus dies down, but as soon as the weather warms up, the virus returns with a fury. OK, so now, we are reversed here, but the theory out there is that COVID-19 will ease in the summer months and return in the fall. Very haunting.
    And there's one last point to make, and I am not sure I "get it." Shelley writes in her Introduction that she and a friend were exploring a cave in Naples with a guide, who refused to take them farther at one point, so they went alone. Shelley and her friend eventually come upon a certain part of the cave that she believed was that of the Cumaean Sibyl, the Apollonian oracle, or prophet for the Greek colony there. She claims that she found "leaves" (like, leaves of paper, or the things that hang on trees??), with writings she that she collected and translated and from which this story was derived. OK, so that's not true, but the part about visiting the cave, and returning to it probably is true, and I am wondering just what she found there. Can't find much on that online. Anyways, now on to the story, which is divided into three volumes.
    The narrator, of course, is The Last Man, and we find at the end that he has written his life story in case there are any other survivors on the planet. His name is Lionel Verney, but he begins with his father, a charming and gifted man and the darling of society, but reckless and irresponsible, especially where gambling is concerned. Still, he had the friendship of the King, who usually bailed him out. That is, until he marries a haughty Austrian Princess, who puts an end to the friendship. Lionel's father, heavily in debt, and expecting money from the King, gets one last chance, then blows it all on gambling. He runs away, and in a fever, is nursed in a cottage by a peasant's daughter. He marries her, and they have two children, but live in utter poverty. He dies, but before that, implores his former friend, the King, to take care of his children. This does not happen, however, and soon their mother dies as well. Meanwhile the King has abdicated the throne, and he also dies, leaving the former Queen, now the Countess with two children also, Adrian and Idris.
    Lionel is only five years old when his mother dies, leaving a two-year-old sister for him to care for. They are placed in charity, and eventually he becomes a shepherd. The two children live in extreme poverty, but Perdita, is quiet and solitary, and holds her anger inside. Lionel, however becomes leader of a gang of ruffians, who regularly steal game from the land where Lionel is employed. He is one mean and hateful young man, out to revenge anyone and everyone for his poverty.
    Skip ahead. Adrian, son of the former King and now Earl of Windsor is fifteen years old, near the same age as Lionel. His mother sends him to Cumberland where Lionel is still a shepherd. Though Perdita is excited because she has heard that the young Earl is known for his sweetness and generosity, Lionel cannot wait to show his hatred, especially since the King had not helped when his dying father implored him. And so he begins openly shooting Adrian's beautiful game, and is arrested, but soon after, released. It happens again. But the third time, the guard hits him, just as the Earl approaches, and he reprimands the guard. Then, in the most kind and sincere manner, expresses how glad he is to finally meet Lionel, and invites him to his home. Lionel is befuddled and every attempt to hate him fails. Adrian expresses his remorse that the letter his father had sent was lost. He found it, and now intends to make amends, and is certain they are destined to be friends.
    By the time Lionel leaves, he does have a real friend and a new attitude. Adrian follows through with every promise, and takes care of both Lionel and his sister. But what is even better, is that he inspires greatness in Lionel, who resolves to "become wise and good." And that he certainly does. Adrian offers him a new life, with intellectual and artistic advancement. He writes, "But curiosity soon awoke, and an earnest love of knowledge, which caused me to pass days and nights in reading and study." Perdita and Lionel soon adore Adrian.
    Now, so what is going on at the Castle? Well, the ex-queen remained alone there with her children, with only certain high-ranking friends as visitors, slowly plotting her way to the reinstatement of royalty in England, with herself as queen. Meanwhile, she has invited the daughter of a Greek Prince, Princess Evadne, to live with them. Adrian, in his naïveté is unable to recognize that his mother has been attempting "to implant daring and ambitious designs in the mind of her own son." But it is to no avail, because Adrian is not motivated by ambition, but by serving the people of England, abolishing poverty and making everyone equal in a democracy. He falls hopelessly in love with Evadne, and that is when his mother sends him to Cumberland. Lionel reads Adrian's letters, and Evadne's, too and draws this conclusion. "There was much kindness, gratitude, and sweetness in her expression, but no love." "I compared her placid epistles with the burning ones of Adrian. His soul seemed to distil itself into the words he wrote; and they breathed on the paper, bearing with them a portion of the life of love, which was his life. The very writing used to exhaust him; and he would weep over them, merely from the excess of emotion they awakened in his heart."
    Now, Adrian is already making plans to carry out his life's work in philanthropy, so he goes to London, and must separate from Lionel for a while. Perdita has now become the "pupil, friend, and younger sister," of Evadne, and Lionel is secured a position as private secretary to the Ambassador at Vienna. But life there is less than fulfilling. Meanwhile enter Lord Raymond.
    He was "the sole remnant of a noble but impoverished family," who "became an adventurer in the Greek wars." When a truce is concluded, Raymond suddenly finds himself " the possessor of an immense fortune in England," where he returns. He, unlike Adrian is filled with ambition, and soon gains the reverence of the former queen, and through him plans to make her way back to the top, as ruler. He is handsome, charming, and becomes everyone's favorite. The Countess prefers him over her own Adrian, and he becomes the prospective husband of Idris.

Raymond was emphatically a man of the world. His passions were violent; as these often obtained the mastery over him, he could not always square his conduct to the obvious line of self-interest, but self gratification at least was the paramount object with him.

    Meanwhile, something is very wrong with Adrian. He had ceased to write, and it was rumored he was mad. Lionel returns home and Perdita tells him where things stand. Adrian has fought with Raymond and gone into exile. Raymond wants to be King and conquer the whole world. Adrian accompanies Raymond back to London. He says he knows where Adrian is, and that he is mad.
    Evadne has fallen in love with Raymond, crushing Adrian's heart. But what is not made immediately clear by Perdita, is that she and Raymond are in love, which is okay with Idris, because she does not love him. But it is when Raymond stops by to see Perdita, that Lionel understands their relationship, and it is when he first sees Idris, that he falls immediately in love with her. She begs Lionel's help in finding her brother. To make a long story short, Lionel does find Adrian and rescue him. He is terribly weak, almost dying but, does recover. Raymond does not marry Idris, and gives up his chance for the throne in England by marrying Perdita instead. Meanwhile, the Countess, seeing all her plans thwarted, tries one last time to manipulate her daughter. Her plan is to drug her, then send her back to Austria, where she will marry whom she is told to marry, or be imprisoned. Idris knows this, and only pretends to take the drink offered her. She escapes to Lionel, and they flee to London, under the protection of Adrian. She and Lionel marry, and the Countess, in her rage, leaves Windsor Castle and returns to Austria, cutting off all communication with her children. Meanwhile, the five of them live in utter peace and joy, Adrian, Lionel and Idris at Windsor Castle and Raymond and Perdita in a house nearby. They have a child, Clara, and Idris has Alfred. Far removed from surrounding life, their close-knit circle, surrounded by beautiful land, books, art and love, provide several years of bliss. But that is soon to change.
    The new Lord Protector is to be chosen so the group goes to London. Though it has not been planned, Adrian and Lionel nominate Raymond because of his excellent leadership qualities. Even as a last minute choice, his speech is impressive, and he wins. All are happy except Perdita, who sees it all as a bad omen, that their love, happiness and peace will never be again. She is right.
    Raymond works hard, and has many projects going on, one being the construction of an art gallery. He requests designs, and receives one that is intriguing, yet contains flaws. He tells the architect what changes he would make, and the architect returns the next day. But something is not right, and the man admits he is not the architect, but is not permitted to give further information. Raymond follows him, and discovers that the real architect is Evadne, now half-starving and living in extreme poverty. He tries to help her, but she believes she must bear her burden because she ruined her husband, who committed suicide. And worse, her love for Raymond is still strong.
    Now Raymond and Perdita have had the most close, loving, and joyful marriage up to this point. But after a while, she senses that something is wrong. Raymond is spending a great deal of time away, and she knows he is being secretive. Eventually the truth comes out, and she says she is unable to ever trust him again. They continue living what becomes a pretense, until finally, Raymond begins to neglect his duties and drink with scoundrels. In one last fit, he resigns his position and returns to Greece to lead the army. (And I want to add that the army is still fighting on horses!)
    Perdita remains stubborn and miserable until Raymond is captured by the Turks and in danger of death. Suddenly she awakens and says she must go to Greece to help in the effort to rescue him. She, Lionel and Clara sail for Athens, and that begins Volume Two.
    Between the two of them, and the authorities, they manage to get Raymond released, but he is badly broken. Still, he and Perdita are together again, and she vows to never leave him. He recovers and now Lionel joins the war effort. But the war is not the problem, because Greece certainly will win. The problem is the Plague, which is sweeping throughout parts of Europe and Asia, and has infested Constantinople. During one battle, Lionel comes across a dying soldier. But it is a woman—Evadne!—and she is struggling with her final breath. But before she dies, she confides a deathly omen. Raymond, her love, will join her soon and they will finally be together. The year is now 2092.
    Constantinople has fallen, and Raymond insists on entering its gates, in spite of the Plague. There is an explosion and fires during a storm, and soon the whole city is on fire. Raymond does not return. Lionel finds him dead with his faithful dog. Perdita will not return to England. She knows where Raymond wanted to be buried, and she and her brother follow through. But he does not realize she is having a little cottage build on this burial mountain in Athens, where she plans to spend the rest of her days. She sends Clara back with Lionel. But he will not accept her decision, and drugs her the night the ship is to leave. She awakens on board, unable to accept what her brother has done. One evening, she jumps overboard. They find her body, and it is returned to Greece. Upon returning to England with Clara, Lionel hears a strange story at Portsmouth. A derelict vessel had washed up with only one crew member on board. He fell dead as soon as he reached the shore, blackened by the Plague. The ship was from Philadelphia.
    From that point on, Shelley devotes the rest of Volume Two and most of Volume Three to the slow-kill which happens over eight long years, each winter providing a reprieve and renewed hope, and each spring beginning a fresh and more virulent assault upon humanity that leaves no country behind. If you think this would be boring, think again, because she has triumphed over this challenge in the most masterful way. As for those in England, they feel perhaps they are more sheltered, being on an island off the continent, and cautiously attempt to continue their normal lives. Adrian takes over as leader, Lord Protector, after Ryland, Raymond's once-rival, who had assumed the job after his death, leaves to go into "quarantine" with a storehouse of provisions. He later dies, with his provisions unused. As the disease strikes London, so it strikes the friends and families close to our three remaining heroes. Little by little they observe abandoned houses and cottages, weeds and animals living where once flowers and people lived. Plowed and planted fields produced their abundance, yet there was no one to harvest the bounty. I want to add that it is here that things became very disturbing, as we, here in 2020, see milk and produce and worst of all beautiful animals, killed, plowed under, thrown away because there is no market, or no workers to tend the fields and animals. Does that scare me? Indeed it does, and even more so after reading this book. And of course, another familiar issue is that people, especially merchants relying on shipments from foreign lands, begin to go bankrupt. I have always taken the COVID-19 thing seriously, and anyone who has a vision beyond their own wallet probably does, too. People need to read this book and take heed. I want to point out, however, that, unlike the self-absorption we witness here in 2020, the formerly wealthy soon readily gave up themselves and their goods to the needy. And in many ways, they struggled more than the poor, because they had to learn to do tasks they had never done before.
    And what becomes even more prophetic is that suddenly the winters, which offered a break in fear and death, became deathly themselves—overly brutal and violently cold. And so, through Adrian's wisdom and the support of his sister and brother-in-law, it is decided that all of England that remains alive shall be gathered together and leave for France.
    Now, this reasoning, I really could not grasp. If I were in the same situation, I would stay put in my own home, where I know how to survive in adverse conditions, and if I am going to die, I would never voluntarily go to a foreign country to do it. They do get it, eventually, by the way, and wonder why they left all they loved for the short remaining time they had to live. But, how's that saying—hope springs eternal? Anyways, lest I give away too much of the story, I will end here, and conclude with some quotes.
    Upon returning from Greece, Lionel reflects upon his decisions.

I returned to my family estate in the autumn of the year 2092. My heart had long been with them; and I felt sick with the hope and delight of seeing them again. The district which contained them appeared the abode of every kindly spirit. Happiness, love and peace, walked the forest paths, and tempered the atmosphere. After all the agitation and sorrow I had endured in Greece, I sought Windsor, as the storm-driven bird does the nest in which it may fold its wings in tranquility.

How unwise had the wanderers been, who had deserted its shelter, entangled themselves in the web of society, and entered on what men of the world call "life,"—that labyrinth of evil, that scheme of mutual torture. To live, according to this sense of the word, we must not only observe and learn, we must also feel; we must not be mere spectators of action, we must act; we must not describe, but be subjects of description. Deep sorrow must have been the inmate of our bosoms; fraud must have lain in wait for us; the artful must have deceived us; sickening doubt and false hope must have chequered our days; hilarity and joy, that lap the soul in ecstasy, must at times have possessed us. Who that knows what "life" is, would pine for this feverish species of existence? I have lived. I have spent days and nights of festivity; I have joined in ambitious hopes, and exulted in victory: now,—shut the door on the world, and build high the wall that is to separate me from the troubled scene enacted within its precincts. Let us live for each other and for happiness; let us seek peace in our dear home, near the inland murmur of streams, and the gracious waving of trees, the beauteous vesture of earth, and sublime pageantry of the skies. Let us leave "life," that we may live.

    Of course, Adrian is always the dreamer. He believes if they can get through a year, all will be well.

"Let this last but twelve months," said Adrian; "and earth will become a Paradise. The energies of man were before directed to the destruction of his species: they now aim at its liberation and preservation. Man cannot repose, and his restless aspirations will now bring forth good instead of evil. The favoured countries of the south will throw off the iron yoke of servitude; poverty will quit us, and with that, sickness. What may not the forces, never before united, of liberty and peace achieve in this dwelling of man?"

    And here's another one that should drop your jaw and make you sit up and take notice.

That the plague was not what is commonly called contagious, like the scarlet fever, or extinct small-pox, was proved. It was called an epidemic. But the grand question was still unsettled of how this epidemic was generated and increased. If infection depended upon the air, the air was subject to infection. As for instance, a typhus fever has been brought by ships to one sea-port town; yet the very people who brought it there, were incapable of communicating it in a town more fortunately situated. But how are we to judge of airs, and pronounce—in such a city plague will die unproductive; in such another, nature has provided for it a plentiful harvest? In the same way, individuals may escape ninety-nine times, and receive the death-blow at the hundredth; because bodies are sometimes in a state to reject the infection of malady, and at others, thirsty to imbibe it. These reflections made our legislators pause, before they could decide on the laws to be put in force. The evil was so wide-spreading, so violent and immedicable, that no care, no prevention could be judged superfluous, which even added a chance to our escape.

    Needless to say, I have a great deal more to say about this book, especially since I had taken seventeen-and-a-half pages of notes! But I will let it go as is. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough, especially for those who really need to get a different perspective of the true conditions we now face on this planet, as opposed to the lies and cover-ups. If you do not want to buy the book, you can download it for free at Project Gutenberg.
    Below is a picture of Windsor Castle where Adrian, Lionel, Idris and their children lived. It is real, (Oh, my!!) and is currently owned by the reigning monarch of England, Queen Elizabeth II.

Windsor Castle

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