Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Masks of Anarchy

Masks Of Anarchy: The History Of A Radical Poem, From Percy Shelley To The Triangle Factory FireMasks Of Anarchy: The History Of A Radical Poem, From Percy Shelley To The Triangle Factory Fire by Michael Demson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A nonfiction graphic novel that explores Percy Shelley’s political poems & how they later inspired labor activist Pauline Newman many years later to agitate for change & form one of the first American unions.

There is an old-fashioned air about this graphic novel. The wordy panels & heavy art style recalls woodcuts in older newspapers & periodicals. This certainly lends plenty of atmosphere to the story Demson is telling, but will take readers a page or two to adjust to. Shelley’s & Newman’s stories unfold in alternating chapters that point out the contrasts of their lives. Shelley lived a life devoted to ideals yet struggled to keep his family & friends around him as a result of his attitudes & poor financial choices. Newman, taking Shelley’s call to arms to heart, strove to strengthen her community & succeeded because of the relationships she formed. In fact, the division between the two subjects can be jarring yet the author does not comment on this or soften the harshness, leaving me to wonder how exactly I was supposed to reconcile the two.

Overall, Masks is an interesting project that more deeply illustrated to me the sincerity of Shelley’s politics & how truly the idea of “only connect” can manifest in real life. Recommended for those who are curious about the labor movement in America & how the arts nurtured those ideas.

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