Ariel has been as popular with readers, young and old alike, as it has been controversial with scholars. Readers love the book’s exciting pace, Maurois’ vivid turns of phrase, and the sensational subject matter. Scholars resent the neglect of Shelley’s poetry, claiming that Maurois did not understand the poet or the man. Shelley scholars are especially vexed that the general perception of Shelley’s mind and motives has been distorted by the book’s caricature. Ariel, they contend, presents a silly dreamer who seems to build his life around tea parties and young girls, not the serious thinker and driven artist who was Shelley. Maurois admitted that his effort was not to study the poet but to portray emotional conflict.
Though not written specifically for young adults, this book has taken its place among juvenile biographies in part because many adults who are serious about history and literature have rejected it as childish and in part because of its genuine appeal to anyone excited by the idea of youthful rebellion. Though it sheds no new light on Shelley, Ariel offers amusement, entertainment, and many worthwhile in-sights into human nature, love, and youth.
Maurois sought to portray Shelley as a child who never grew up, an indulgent dreamer who wasted his powers constructing around each fond female in his life “one of those aërial worlds into which he loved to escape.” Determined, as Maurois explained in his memoirs, to bring...
(The entire section is 609 words.)