Shelley's Mirrors of Love

Narcissism, Sacrifice, and Sorority

By Teddi Chichester Bonca

Subjects: Romanticism
Series: SUNY series in Psychoanalysis and Culture
Paperback : 9780791439784, 311 pages, October 1998
Hardcover : 9780791439777, 311 pages, November 1998

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


Texts and Abbreviations

Introduction: The Principle of Self and Love's Transforming Presence

1. Shelley, Christ, and Narcissus

2. Shelleyan Doppelgänger : Loathsome Sympathy/Indomitable Selfhood

3. A Band of Sister-Spirits

4. Sex, Sympathy, and Science

5. The Unreserve of Mingled Being


Works Cited


Examines the myths and realities of narcissism in the life and work of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and explores how Shelley combated what he called “the principle of Self” by embracing the ideals of Christlike self-sacrifice and sisterly love.


Shelley's Mirrors of Love confronts the myths and realities of Shelleyan narcissism and discovers an artist fiercely engaged with problems of (gender) identity, self-idolatry, and the nature of love itself. Rather than capitulating to what he called "the principle of Self," Shelley obsessively explored its temptations, its dangers, and its antidotes. The book is largely psychobiographical in approach, working with the theories of Heinz Kohut and Jessica Benjamin, among others, as it closely analyzes Shelley's fiction, poetry, and letters.

The book offers the most comprehensive analysis to date of the poet's fluid gender identity, finding strong evidence of an "imaginative transsexualism" that allowed him to identify with real and imagined "sister-spirits" who exemplified the powers of love and sympathy, the greatest of Shelleyan ideals. The latter force receives particular attention as the study turns to scientific theories of Shelley's day, theories that helped the poet envision how the energy of electricity, sympathy, and sexuality converge to create the kind of erotically interpenetrating universe we see at the close of Prometheus Unbound.

Teddi Chichester Bonca is a Lecturer in the UCLA Writing Programs.


"This book gives new insights on the relation of Shelley to the whole area of gender and many related issues. It analyzes more thoroughly than have previous works his identification with the feminine and comes thereby to new interpretations or new understanding of what is going on in the poetry. I'm particularly struck by what the author notes about Shelley's identification with Jesus, a feminine Jesus, and with her discussion, more generally, of his identification with the feminine and his strong ambivalence about male sexuality." — Barbara Gelpi, Stanford University

"Bonca moves with grace and assurance among the relevant scholarship, and indeed among scholarship on topics at one or two removes from her own. The overarching argument of this book is quite impressive. But apart from that argument, Bonca is repeatedly penetrating in her analyses of individual texts. The topic is important to Shelley studies, to critics interested in psychoanalytic approaches to Romanticism, and to critics working on Romanticism and feminism." — William A. Ulmer, University of Alabama