Published: 29 July 2022 at 09:59
Marking the death of the poet Shelley 200 years ago this month
Leading Shelley expert Nora Crook, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), has appeared on BBC Radio 4 and has taken part in a unique online event, featuring Percy Bysshe Shelley’s final, unfinished poem read in 14 different languages, to mark the 200th anniversary of the poet’s death.
Professor Crook was interviewed by poet Benjamin Zephaniah on the two-part BBC Radio 4 programme, Percy Shelley, Reformer and Radical, which has been released to coincide with Shelley’s death by drowning off the coast of Italy in July 1822.
The programme explores the historical context of Shelley’s work, its impact on readers, including Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Zephaniah in particular. Mounting a passionate defence of Shelley’s political poetry, it addresses the contemporary relevance of the poet’s work, linking Shelley’s poem Ozymandias with the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in June 2020.
Also during this month, Professor Crook contributed to The Bicentenary of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Death: An Online Global Event. Hosted from the Keats-Shelley House in Rome on 8 July, speakers participated from all over the world including Cambridge, Tokyo, Washington DC, New Zealand, China, Italy, Denmark, Greece, Peru, and Mexico. The event consists of three parts: Shelley’s last poem, left unfinished at the time of his untimely drowning, with sections read in fourteen different languages, using Crook’s edition for the English portions, a fifteen-minute film of the last days of Shelley, narrated by Julian Sands, the actor, and a conversation with other international Shelley scholars on various aspects of the poet’s “Last Days.”
Professor Crook, who was described by Zephaniah as “the country’s leading Shelley scholar,” has had a distinguished academic career as a Shelley expert.
She is co-general editor of the multi-volume Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Johns Hopkins, 2000 onward). Volume 7, published last year, of which she is the editor, contains the poems that Mary Shelley edited posthumously. It has been receiving unanimously excellent reviews, including a laudatory one from the Times Literary Supplement this month, which calls it “superb” on its cover of July 8.
Her other publications include the co-authored Shelley's Venomed Melody (Cambridge University Press 1986), a monograph on Shelley and medicine. Her international reputation was established by her textual work on the Shelleys between 1991-2002 and her general editorship of 12 volumes of Mary Shelley's works, which included her own editions of Frankenstein and Valperga.
In 2013 she discovered thirteen totally new letters by Mary Shelley in Essex Records Office.
Professor Crook is Jamaican, and her lifelong passion for Shelley’s poetry was born in Jamaica.
When schools shut down during an outbreak of polio on the island in 1954, her class was given homework that included learning Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind. She memorised the poem whilst walking alone along the seashore reciting it out loud. She said on Radio 4: