Week 5 of The Keats-Shelley Synchronised Reading Group turns to prose - and the final pages of Mary Shelley's The Last Man - a novel that has been mentioned regularly in recent weeks for its extraordinarily prescient depiction of a pandemic.
At 2pm GMT, Wednesday, 29th April, we will read - alone and together - the novel's final pages describing Lionel Verney's solitary progress into Rome: 'Rome, the capital of the world, the crown of man's achievements,' as Lionel puts it.
Lionel is Shelley's 'Last Man'. In case the reader was in any doubt, he remind us: 'I was alone in the Forum ; alone in Rome ; alone in the world.' He is also an intriguing proxy for Mary Shelley herself: was his solitude an allegory, perhaps, of Mary outliving all the Romantic writers?
Entering by the Porta del Popolo, Lionel certainly has free rein over the city, climbing the Colonna Palace, hailing the Coliseum, the Tiber, the wild Campagna.
While the portrait of navigating a deserted city might feel eerily familiar, we hope these pages will provide the same strange consolation that Lionel discovers in Rome's long history:
'The knowledge that I was in Rome, soothed me; that wondrous city, hardly more illustrious for its heroes and sages, than for the power it exercised over the imaginations of men...I tried to lose the sense of present misery and present desertion, by recalling to the haunted cell of my brain vivid memories of times gone by. I rejoiced at my success, as I figured Camillus, the Gracchi, Cato. and last the heroes of Tacitus...'
We will begin our Synchronised Read on page 329 of volume three, with the paragraph beginning: 'No, no, I will not live among the wild scenes of nature, the enemy of all that lives. I will seek.'
You can find this edition of The Last Man: here. We will do our best to read to the end in 20 - 30 minutes.
The idea of the Synchronised Reading Group was inspired by John Keats himself. In December 1818, he wrote from London to his brother George and Georgiana Keats in Kentucky: ‘I shall read a passage of Shakespeare every Sunday at ten oClock – you read one at the same time and we shall be as near each other as blind bodies can be in the same room.’