Sisterhood of Shelley
When you enter Pegasus' Arms, it's close to 2 hours past midnight, and there's still a motley crowd of circus folk, laborers, and various vagabonds drinking and socializing together. Most of the inhabitants don't even notive your entrance, except for a short man standing in the back who signals to you to meet him at the entrance to the basement cellar at the back right corner of the bar. Of course, you recognize the person (as he motions to you) as the local Union organizer, Mr. Slackbridge.
"This way, my down-trodden fellow countryman. Sister Shelley awaits your company. She says it's time you two meet."
Slackbridge opens the door to the downward, spiraling staircase. As you enter, the steps are steep and the descending hallway was dimly lit at best. The stairs lead you to a damp room where a woman sits at a fireplace speaking in a low tone to a group of comrades who are gathered around her eagerly listening to her every word. As you approach, she ceases speaking and everyone turns to greet you with a stare of suspicion.
"Mary Shelley, I presume?"
"Welcome, 'friend.' We've been waiting for you. It's time we let you in on the secrets of the cause against fact."
"Don't you mean 'the secrets of the cause for fancy?'" You vaguely recall a poem by William Wordsworth as you utter the last reply (something about "more like a man who flees the things he dreads instead of pursuing the things he loves...")
"There is no difference anymore," Shelley shouts. "History has made it clear; it's time to choose a side and to do so radically! There is no room for lukewarm convictions. Not after what they've done to Nature! Not after what they've done to the spirit of the imagination - the greatest of the mind's many faculties! And especially, not after what they did to my Percy!"
"I don't understand..."
"They must be eliminated - the utilitarians, the positivists, the enemies of the imagination! They must be eliminated before they destroy all human forms of fancy!"
With a sense of concern, you suggest, "Shouldn't we avoid violent confrontation? I mean, don't you think what your comrade, Slackbridge, did to Blackpool, for instance - don't you think that was wrong?"
Shelley leans in with a look of passionate seriousness: "You and I know that positivists like Professuer Comte and his conspirator, Dr. Boole, as well as utilitarians, such as Choakumchild and Bounderby, seek nothing less than to exert absolute violence against the sacred human spirit by destroying all fanciful and imaginative thought. Violence against the spirit can only be defeated by the violence against the flesh, and that's exactly what we intend to do!"
"So what is it that you plan to do exactly?"
"The fight between Fact and Fancy reached a fever pitch the year you arrived in Coketown because it was the year that a young logician, George Boole, published the 1st volume of his magnum opus, making him the darling figure of the Philosophes of Fact. As we speak, Professeur Comte and Dr. George Boole are conspiring with the likes of Mr. M'Choakumchild to publish a sequel to Boole's work The Laws of Thought - a book that will offer (for the first time) a logically perfect language whose system is rooted in the absolute certainty of logic and reason. They plan to offer this new, "more perfect" language as a linguistic system whose statements can only report meaningfully on verifiable facts and data. No longer will there be words for nonsense and fictional constructs. The laws of language will be an extension of the laws of thought, and the laws of thought will be based solely on the laws of what can be verified and logically proven through calculable data. In other words, they plan to eliminate poetry, fantasy, esoteric philosophy, and all the other things that sustain and nourish the human spirit when facts and numbers fail to do so. And this mishief started with your mentor's arrogant proposal - what he callsthe new social science of positivism; therefore, he, along Boole and the others, must be assassinated, which we plan to do tonight!"
The room rumbled with cheers and applause when Shelley finished her statement. Revolution was in the air, but the crowd quickly fell silent as Shelley continued: "The System is not on our side. I hope you can recognize that. Nature lost, and industry won, and we've been left in the dustbins of history. Systemic violence of the industrial empire is choking the very life out of the common man. Just look to the fate of Stephen Blackpool to see what I mean. Slackbridge was not his enemy; the masters were. We must fight back to demand a better world - a utopian world."
"Here! here!" More cheers erupted across the room at mention of the word, "Utopia."
Finally you interject: "Ok fine. I understand and can appreciate the threat that you describe, but what does your deceased husband Percy Shelley have to do with any of this?"
Mary Shelley pauses to collect herself and then says, "The whole war between Fact and Fancy began on one fateful day, 8 July 1822, namely the day Percy Shelley was murdered by one of Professeur Comte's most dangerous assassins: the scoundrel Leigh Hunt."
"Wait!" Your interruption draws frowns from the various listeners in the room. "How could the war have started on 8 July 1822?!? That's the day I was born; that's just too much of a coincidence!" Sleary's words echo in your head: You were born for this; you'll theee. "And I thought Percy Shelley drowned in a boating accident in the Gulf of Spezia when you were living in Northern Italy?"
"You were born for this struggle; your date of birth only proves that all the more! You will help us defeat the destroyers of poetry, beauty, and fancy!"
"But why would my mentor, Professeur Comte, want to have your husband killed? How did they even know each other?!?"
"Percy Shelley and Auguste Comte were both radical followers of the Utopian Socialist revolutionary, Claude Henri de Rouvroy, or better known as comte de Saint-Simon. In fact, when Saint-Simon was no longer able to lead his faction of world-changing revolutionaries, Percy and Auguste Comte formed a secret leadership council to replace their aging commander and called it the Secret Society of Saint-Simonians (sometimes referred to as the radical S4 Cell). The mission of the council was to establish in Western Europe an enlightened utopian society where all poverty, social classes, and private wealth have been eliminated. The council was formed by 1820, but it didn't last long as Percy and Professeur Comte could not agree upon a common vision. Of course, the main reason for the famous split of 1821 was due to a difference in priorities for achieving human utopia: Percy believed in the power of Poetry and its main faculties, the Imagination and the Emotions, as that which shines the way to a better world; whereas Professeur Comte believed in the powers of Science and its main faculty of Reason as that which corrects the course to utopia. There was no way to reconcile the two thinkers' differing ideologies."
"Are you implying that my mentor killed your husband over a dispute between poetry and science?!?"
"It's more than a dispute between poetry and science; it's a struggle over how we ground our very understanding of the nature of reality itself. Does one explain away the apparent mystery of being by reducing it to the certainties of logic? Or, does one make sense of the apparent certainty of logic by reducing it to the mystery of existence and the human psyche? Does logic explain to us the world of humanity, or does the world of humanity explain to us the existence of logic?"
"Wow, that's deep," you mumbled while rubbing your temples as if massaging the heavy thoughts that weighed upon your pulsing brain.
"Yes, and it has political, social, and historical consequences as well, meaning when Percy decided to break from Comte's cult of fact worshippers he became an existential threat to their agenda. The S4 cell sent Leigh Hunt undercover to assassinate poor Percy, while making it look like a boating accident. That's why I also faked my own death 8 years ago: to live in the shadows and wait for the moment of retribution. Now, for the better part of a decade I have assembled my band of radicals, the Sisterhood of Shelley, and our sole mission has been to eliminate Comte and the Brotherhood of Boole's influence, which explains why your professeur has been in hiding. We must end their influence before it is too late - in honor of the power of poetry as well as Percy's legacy!"
It is the drifting icebergs setting with any current anywhere, that wreck the ships. -Charles Dickens, Hard Times, p. 175
Something didn't sit right with you, after hearing Mary Shelley's story. She had every reason to be angry, both about her husband's fate and about the concerns related to utilitarianism and positivism. However, you keep going back to her original statement about being "against Facts." It's as if her cause has lost its grounding in something positive, and as a result her revolutionary passion was like a drifting iceberg. At that moment, you hear Dickens's plea sounding in your thoughts, but what can you do to convince Shelley to change her resolve?!?
Your Task: Compose a multi-paragraph argument that addresses Shelley's perspective. Why is Shelley's radicalism misguided? How might she (or you) achieve her ends differently? How does one confront an overly-rationalist and overly-utilitarian world of fact and make clear to others the indispensable value of fancy without resorting to violent means? Make your case to Mary Shelley in form of a multi-paragraph composition (20XP).
Take the Final Quotes Quiz to Beat the Game: