Revenge is Sweeter than Life

zastrozzi and st irvyne shelleyZastrozzi and St. Irvyne – Percy Bysshe Shelley
Oxford University Press – 1986

These are the only novels Percy Shelley ever wrote, and they are usually published together. They’re roughly 100 pages each.

Zastrozzi (First published 1810)
I’ll be brief with this one because it’s very short and the more I say, the more it will take from your enjoyment if you do decide to read it. This is a remarkably enjoyable Gothic romance. The title character’s horrendously callous pursuit of vengeance leads him to acts of genuinely shocking brutality. Fantastic. File this guy alongside Maldoror, Iago, and Aaron the Moor. At one point, he utters the words, “I will taste revenge; for revenge is sweeter than life: and even were I to die with him, and, as the punishment of my crime, be instantly plunged into eternal torments, I should taste superior joy in recollecting the sweet moment of his destruction. O! would that destruction could be eternal!”
Those might be my favourite sentences in the entire canon of literature.

The ending of this book was absolutely satisfying in every respect. Incredible.

I listened to a few chapters from the Librivox audiobook version, but the narrator tries so hard to sound dramatic that he makes it difficult to keep listening. I don’t like badmouthing people who put together the stuff at Librivox as I know they’re volunteering their time to make literature accessible, but Jesus Christ, this guy sounded like an arsehole.
St. Irvyne (First published 1811)
The second tale in this collection, St. Irvyne, isn’t quite as good. There’s two storylines in here, one about a pair of star-crossed lovers and one about an innocent young virgin who is led astray by a mysterious stranger. I was really enjoying it, but I started getting a bit worried when I noticed that I was only a few pages from the end and had absolutely no idea how the two plotlines related to each other. I started wondering if I had skipped a chapter by accident. Unfortunately, this confusion lasted right up until the third-last sentence in the book.

St. Irvyne, you see, was originally intended to be a much longer work, but at a certain point Shelley got sick of writing and decided to tie everything up in a 2 page conclusion. The writing is nice, but this was a bit of a disappointment.

The alternate title of the work is actually The Rosicrucian, and while one of the characters in here has clearly been dabbling in the Occult, there’s not a single mention of actual Rosicrucianism in the entire book. If you’re into that kind of thing, I’d recommend Bulwer Lytton’s Zanoni instead.
While on the subject of Shelley, I’m going reread his wife’s Frankenstein soon. I’ve previously mentioned that book’s shameful absence from this blog, and it’s about time to rectify that. Its 200th anniversary of publication is coming up in a few weeks, so I’m going to try to get it done by then.

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