There is a short story by Henry James called ‘The Private Life’, in which a celebrated writer, Clare Vawdrey, is invited to a weekend house party. His company, it turns out, is less illuminating than his writing and one evening, while Vawdrey is boring his fellow guests downstairs, the narrator goes upstairs and sees through the author’s bedroom door, which is slightly ajar, that Vawdrey is also sitting at his desk, scribbling away at his latest play. There are two Clare Vawdreys, it transpires: the dreary public figure and the brilliant private writer, and Vawdrey inhabits, quite comfortably, both parts at the same time.
Apart from the fact that Shelley was never thought a bore by anyone who knew him, the brilliant new biographies by Janet Todd and Ann Wroe give us, respectively, the material being downstairs in company, and the ethereal creature upstairs with his pen. They are approaches of which Shelley would