Published: 22 February 2013 at 11:32
Anglia Ruskin academic turns detective to investigate changes to scandalous poem
A scholar from Anglia Ruskin University has shed new light on the censorship and rewriting of Percy Shelley’s most scandalous poem, Laon and Cythna.
Nora Crook, Emerita Professor of English Literature at Anglia Ruskin, was called upon by book collector Stephen Allen to examine an original copy of the uncensored poem which he had bought from a London book dealer. Details of their detective work have been published in the 22 February edition of the Times Literary Supplement.
Shelley attempted to publish Laon and Cythna in December 1817, but was warned by his publisher, Charles Ollier, that the work would lead to prosecution on grounds of blasphemy and immorality, as the title characters were siblings and also lovers. An expurgated version of the poem eventually appeared, renamed The Revolt of Islam.
After Allen bought the original, uncensored version of Laon and Cythna, he noticed that it contained writing in the margins of several pages in an early nineteenth-century hand and wondered whether it came from within the Shelley circle.
With the help of Professor Crook, Dr Bruce Barker-Benfield of the Bodleian Library in Oxford and a group of international specialist scholars, it was established that the majority of the changes were made by Shelley’s friend and neighbour, Thomas Love Peacock, with Shelley merely agreeing to the suggestions.
Professor Crook said: