"His two latest biographers perpetuate the Jekyll-and-Hyde tradition, one exploring his spiritual journey, the other totting up the emotional and moral cost of his unearthliness and inhumanity. In Death and the Maidens, Janet Todd confronts more frankly than anyone has done before the fact that Shelley spent virtually his entire adult life trying to lure young girls away from the protection of their families. All of them were vulnerable, inexperienced and underage. Two killed themselves on his account. Most of the babies they bore him died while in his care. The character who emerges from this book was as manipulative as he was mesmeric, self-absorbed and ruthlessly self-righteous.
'It is no reproach to me that you have never filled my heart with an all-sufficing passion,' he wrote to Harriet Westbrook, who had run away from school to marry him only to find herself dumped after three years for 16-year-old Mary Godwin. Shelley insisted there was 'little to regret' when Harriet was fished out of the Thames two years later, pregnant at 21 with her third child (which, as Todd argues persuasively, may well have been his). 'Everyone does me full justice - bears testimony to the uprightness & liberality of my conduct to her,' Shelley wrote, and married Mary a fortnight after the discovery of the body...."
Above, Death and the Maidens by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.