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This lock of Percy Bysshe Shelley's hair once belonged to Claire Clairmont, the stepsister of Frankenstein novelist Mary Shelley (who was Percy Bysshe's wife). Clairmont was closely connected to this circle of Romantic writers, travelling with the Shelleys across Europe and forming a tempestuous relationship with Lord Byron, with whom she had a child, Allegra.
The lock of hair was originally enclosed within a wrapper on which Clairmont had written 'The Poet Shelley's Hair'. It was presumably cut at his death in July 1822; Shelley and his two companions drowned off the coast of Italy after their boat ran into difficulties and sank. Today, the lock of hair is contained within the front doublure – a decorative lining within a book – of this volume of manuscript letters, together with a lock of Mary Shelley's. The rear doublure contains a fragment of P B Shelley's ashes, collected by Edward Trelawny from the beach near Viareggio where Shelley's body was cremated; they were also originally in the possession of Clairmont. Hair and ashes have been commonly collected and kept as mementos of deceased relatives or friends.
Dr Stephanie Forward explains the key ideas and influences of Romanticism, and considers their place in the work of writers including Wordsworth, Blake, P B Shelley and Keats.