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Title page to the first edition of "Zastrozzi" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Title page from first edition
Author Percy Bysshe Shelley
Published George Wilkie and John Robinson, 1810
Pages 119 (2002 edition)
ISBN 9781843910299
OCLC 50614788

Zastrozzi: A Romance is a Gothic novella by Percy Bysshe Shelley first published in 1810 in London by George Wilkie and John Robinson anonymously, with only the initials of the author's name, as "by P.B.S.". The first of Shelley's two early, Gothic novellas, it outlines his atheistic worldview through the villain Zastrozzi[1] and touches upon his earliest thoughts on irresponsible self-indulgence and violent revenge. An 1810 reviewer wrote that the main character "Zastrozzi is one of the most savage and improbable demons that ever issued from a diseased brain."

Shelley wrote Zastrozzi at the age of seventeen[2] while attending his last year at Eton College,[3] though it was not published until later in 1810 while he was attending University College, Oxford.[4] The novella was Shelley's first published prose work.

Major characters

  • Pietro Zastrozzi, an outlaw who seeks revenge against Verezzi, his half-brother
  • Verezzi, Il Conte, imprisoned by Zastrozzi
  • Julia, La Marchesa de Strobazzo, intended wife of Verezzi
  • Matilda, the Contessa di Laurentini, seduces Verezzi in plan devised by Zastrozzi
  • Bernardo, servant to Zastrozzi
  • Ugo. servant to Zastrozzi
  • Ferdinand Zeilnitz, servant to Matilda
  • Bianca, servant to Zastrozzi
  • Claudine, old woman in Passau, shelters Verezzi
  • The Monk
  • The Inquisitor
  • The Superior, a judge


The epigraph on the title page of the novella is from Paradise Lost (1667) by John Milton, Book II, 368–371:

—That their God
May prove their foe, and with repenting hand
Abolish his own works—This would surpass
Common revenge.
Paradise Lost.


A wood engraving by Cecil Keeling from the 1955 Golden Cockerel Press edition, London.

Pietro Zastrozzi, an outlaw, and his two servants, Bernardo and Ugo, disguised in masks, abduct Verezzi from the inn near Munich where he lives and take him to a cavern hideout. Verezzi is locked in a room with an iron door. Chains are placed around his waist and limbs and he is attached to the wall.

Verezzi is able to escape and to flee his abductors, running away to Passau in Lower Bavaria. Claudine, an elderly woman, allows Verezzi to stay at her cottage. Verezzi saves Matilda from jumping off of a bridge. She befriends him. Matilda seeks to persuade Verezzi to marry her. Verezzi, however, is in love with Julia. Matilda provides lodging for Verezzi at her castle or mansion estate near Venice. Her tireless efforts to seduce him are unsuccessful.

Zastrozzi concocts a plan to torture and to torment Verezzi. He spreads a false rumour that Julia has died, exclaiming to Matilda: "Would Julia of Strobazzo's heart was reeking on my dagger!" Verezzi is convinced that Julia is dead. Distraught and emotionally shattered, he then relents and offers to marry Matilda.

The truth is revealed that Julia is still alive. Verezzi is so distressed at his betrayal that he kills himself. Matilda kills Julia in retaliation. Zastrozzi and Matilda are arrested for murder. Matilda repents. Zastrozzi, however, remains defiant before an inquisition. He is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

Zastrozzi confesses that he sought revenge against Verezzi because Verezzi's father had deserted his mother, Olivia, who died young, destitute, and in poverty. Zastrozzi blamed his father for the death of his mother, who died before she was thirty. Zastrozzi sought revenge against not only his own father, whom he murdered, but also against "his progeny for ever", his son Verezzi. Verezzi and Zastrozzi had the same father. By murdering his own father, Zastrozzi only killed his corporeal body. By manipulating Verezzi into committing suicide, however, Zastrozzi confessed that his objective was to achieve the eternal damnation of Verezzi's soul based on the proscription of the Christian religion against suicide. Zastrozzi, an outspoken atheist, goes to his death on the rack rejecting and renouncing religion and morality "with a wild convulsive laugh of exulting revenge".


The Gentleman's Magazine, regarded as the first literary magazine, published a favourable review of Zastrozzi in 1810: "A short, but well-told tale of horror, and, if we do not mistake, not from an ordinary pen. The story is so artfully conducted that the reader cannot easily anticipate the denouement." The Critical Review, a conservative journal with a "reactionary aesthetic agenda", on the other hand, called the main character Zastrozzi "one of the most savage and improbable demons that ever issued from a diseased brain." The reviewer dismissed the novella: "We know not when we have felt so much indignation as in the perusal of this execrable production. The author of it cannot be too severely reprobated. Not all his 'scintillated eyes,' his 'battling emotions,' his 'frigorific torpidity of despair'... ought to save him from infamy, and his volume from the flames."

Zastrozzi was republished in 1839 in The Romancist and Novelist's Library, No. 10, published in London by John Clements.

Eustace Chesser, in Shelley and Zastrozzi (1965), analysed the novella as a complex psychological thriller: "When I first came across Zastrozzi I was immediately struck by its resemblance to the dream material with which every psychoanalyst is familiar. It was not a story told with the detachment of a professional writer for the entertainment of the public. Whatever the conscious intention of the young Shelley, he was in fact, writing for himself. He was opening the floodgates of the unconscious and allowing its fantasies to pour out unrestrainedly. He was betraying, unwittingly, the emotional problems that agitated his adolescent mind."[5] Patrick Bridgwater, in Kafka, Gothic and Fairytale (2003), argued that the novella anticipated Franz Kafka's work in the twentieth century.[6]

Stylistically, the novella reveals several flaws. The most striking flaw is missing chapters, although some critics and editors[7] have argued that Shelley intended this omission as a prank. At about one hundred pages, Zastrozzi is shorter than novel-length, which prevents a more thorough and complete development of the characters. In the middle sections of the novella, moreover, there is not enough variation in the setting.[7] There is a primary focus on Verezzi and Matilda at the exclusion of the other characters and at the expense of the plot development. Shelley also experiments with word selection and structure which tends to slow down the flow of the story.[7]


In 1977, Canadian playwright George F. Walker wrote a successful play adaptation called "Zastrozzi, The Master of Discipline" based on the Shelley novella. The play was based on a plot summary of Shelley's work, but in and of itself was something "rather different from the novel," in the author's words. The play has been revived on several occasions and was part of the 2009 season of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Walker's play retains all the major characters of the Shelley novella, the core plot, and the moral and ethical issues relating to revenge and retribution and atheism.

In 1986, Channel Four Films in Britain produced a four-part television mini-series of the Shelley novella Zastrozzi, adapted and directed by David G. Hopkins and produced by Lindsey C. Vickers and David Lascelles, which was also shown on American television. Mark McGann played Verezzi, Tilda Swinton played Julia, Max Wall was the Priest, while Zastrozzi was played by newcomer Geff Francis. The production consisted of four 52-minute episodes. In 1990, Jeremy Isaacs named the four-hour dramatisation of the early Shelley novella, Zastrozzi (1986), as one of the 10 programmes of which he was most proud during his tenure as Channel 4's chief executive.

Shelley's later prose fiction

In 1811, Shelley wrote a follow-up novella to Zastrozzi called St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian, A Romance, about an alchemist who sought to impart the secret of immortality, published by John Joseph Stockdale, at 41 Pall Mall, in London, which relied more on the supernatural than did Zastrozzi, which was imbued with Romantic realism.

The principal fictional prose writings of Shelley are Zastrozzi, St. Irvyne, the chapbook Wolfstein (1815–18), The Coliseum (1817), Una Favola (A Fable), written in Italian, A True Story (attributed to him) from the 1820 Indicator by Leigh Hunt, which is almost identical to the poem The Sunset (1816), The Elysian Fields: A Lucianic Fragment, which presents fictional fantasy with political commentary, and The Assassins, A Fragment of a Romance (1814), an unfinished novella about a morality-driven sect of zealots determined to kill the tyrants and oppressive dictators in the world.[8] Shelley also wrote the preface and contributed at least 4,000–5,000 words to the Gothic novel Frankenstein (1818) by his wife Mary Shelley.[9][10]


  1. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Academy of American Poets
  2. Early Shelley: Vulgarisms, Politics, and Fractals, Romantic Circles
  3. Sandy, Mark (7 July 2001). "Percy Bysshe Shelley". The Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company. Retrieved 8 January 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Percy Bysshe Shelley Biography, Poem of
  5. Chesser, Eustace. Shelley and Zastrozzi: Self-Revelation of a Neurotic. London: Gregg/Archive, 1965. Eustace Chesser: "The story itself had the incoherence of a dream because that is just what it was – a day dream in which our conscious conflicts were worked out in disguise."
  6. Bridgwater, Patrick. Kafka, Gothic and Fairytale. NY: Rodopi, 2003. Patrick Bridgwater: "Zastrozzi is more interesting than it is generally allowed: ... it comes into its own when considered side by side with Kafka's work."
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Zastrozzi: A Romance; St. Irvyne, or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance. Edited, with an Introduction and Notes by Stepehen C. Behrendt. Peterborough, Ont., Canada: Broadview Press, 2002
  8. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Shelley's Prose: Or, The Trumpet of a Prophecy. Edited, with an Introduction and Notes by David Lee Clark. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1954.
  9. Rosner, Victoria. "Co-Creating a Monster." The Huffington Post, 29 September 2009: "Random House recently published a new edition of the novel Frankenstein with a surprising change: Mary Shelley is no longer identified as the novel's sole author. Instead, the cover reads 'Mary Shelley (with Percy Shelley).'"
  10. Shelley, Mary, with Percy Shelley. The Original Frankenstein. Edited and with an Introduction by Charles E. Robinson. Oxford: The Bodleian Library, 2008. ISBN 1-85124-396-8 ISBN 978-1851243969


  1. Cameron, Kenneth Neill (1950). The Young Shelley: Genesis of a Radical. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0-374-91255-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Lauritsen, John. The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein. Dorchester, MA: Pagan Press, 2007.
  3. Chesser, Eustace. Shelley and Zastrozzi: Self-Revelation of a Neurotic. London: Gregg/Archive, 1965. Eustace Chesser: "The story itself had the incoherence of a dream because that is just what it was – a day dream in which our conscious conflicts were worked out in disguise."
  4. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Zastrozzi. With a Foreword by Germaine Greer. London: Hesperus Press, 2002. Germaine Greer: "The whole novel treats a love that still dare not speak its name, the love of a juvenile for adult women."
  5. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Zastrozzi: A Romance; St. Irvyne, or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance. Edited, with an Introduction and Notes by Stepehen C. Behrendt. Peterborough, Ont., Canada: Broadview Press, 2002.
  6. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne. (The World's Classics). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
  7. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Edited by Harry Buxton Forman, 8 volumes. London: Reeves and Turner, 1880.
  8. Rajan, Tilottama. "Promethean Narrative: Overdetermined Form in Shelley's Gothic Fiction." Shelley: Poet and Legislator of the World, ed. Betty T. Bennett and Stuart Curran (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 240–52, 308–9.
  9. Zimansky, Curt R. (1981). "Zastrozzi and The Bravo of Venice: Another Shelley Borrowing." Keats-Shelley Journal, 30, pp. 15–17.
  10. Frosch, Thomas R. Shelley and the Romantic Imagination: A Psychological Study. University of Delaware Press, 2007.
  11. Bridgwater, Patrick. Kafka, Gothic and Fairytale. Rodopi, 2003. Patrick Bridgwater: "Zastrozzi is more interesting than it is generally allowed: ... it comes into its own when considered side by side with Kafka's work."
  12. Hughes, A.M.D. (1912). Shelley’s Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne. Modern Language Review.
  13. Hughes, A.M.D. The Nascent Mind of Shelley. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1947.
  14. Seed, David. (1984). "Mystery and Monodrama in Shelley's Zastrozzi." Dutch Quarterly Review, 14.i, pp. 1–17.
  15. Day, Aidan. Romanticism. NY: Routledge, 1996.
  16. Shepherd, Richard Herne, ed. The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: From the Original Editions. London: Chatto and Windus, 1888.
  17. Crook, Nora and Derek Guiton. Shelley's Venomed Melody. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
  18. Bonca, Teddi Chichester. Shelley's Mirrors of Love: Narcissism, Sacrifice, and Sorority. NY: SUNY Press, 1999.
  19. Clark, Timothy. (1993). "Shelley's 'The Coliseum' and the Sublime." Durham University Journal, 225–235.
  20. Duffy, Cian. (2003). "Revolution or Reaction? Shelley's 'Assassins' and the Politics of Necessity." Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 52, pp. 77–93.
  21. Duffy, Cian. Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  22. Clark, Timothy. Embodying Revolution: The Figure of the Poet in Shelley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  23. Kiley, Brendan. "Zastrozzi: Percy Shelley’s Murder-Revenge Camp." The Stranger, Seattle, WA, 28 October 2009.
  24. Barker, Jeremy M. "The Balagan's Zastrozzi Delivers Sex & Violence Without a Pesky Purpose." The Sun Break, 12 October 2009.
  25. "Zastrozzi and the Price of Passion." Viva Victoriana, 9 September 2009.
  26. Glance, Jonathan. (1996). "'Beyond the Usual Bounds of Reverie'? Another Look at the Dreams in Frankenstein." Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, 7.4: 30–47. Mary Shelley read the novella Zastrozzi in 1814. There are "analogous" dream images and themes in both works: "The final and closest analogue to Victor Frankenstein's dream occurs in Percy Shelley's Zastrozzi (1810)."
  27. Simpkins, Scott. "Encoding Masculinity in the Gothic Novel: Shelley's Zastrozzi." California Semiotic Circle Conference, January 1997, Berkeley, CA.
  28. Neilson, Dylan. "Zastrozzi: Master of Stage". The Gauntlet, 27 January 2005.
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  30. "Shelley's Novels." The New York Times, 28 November 1886.
  31. Sigler, David. "The Act of Objectification in P.B. Shelley‟s Zastrozzi." International Conference on Romanticism (ICR), Towson University, Baltimore, MD, October 2007.
  32. Young, A. B. (1906). "Shelley and M.G. Lewis." Modern Language Review, 1: pp. 322–324.
  33. Rich, Frank. "Stage: Serban Directs 'Zastrozzi' at the Public." New York Times, 18 January 1962.
  34. Simpkins, Scott. "Tricksterism in the Gothic Novel." The American Journal of Semiotics, 1 January 1997.
  35. Cottom, Daniel. "Gothic Pathologies: The Text, The Body and The Law." Studies in Romanticism, 22 December 2000.
  36. Hagopian, John V. (1955). "A Psychological Approach to Shelley's Poetry." American Imago, 12: 25–45.
  37. Livingston, Luther S. "First Books Of Some English Authors: Percy Bysshe Shelley." The Bookman, XII, 4, December 1900.
  38. Lovecraft, H. P. "Supernatural Horror in Literature." The Recluse, No. 1 (1927), 23–59.

External links