After a residence of about a year at Ullswater, Adrian visited London, and came back full of plans for our benefit. You must begin life, he said: you are seventeen, and longer delay would render the necessary apprenticeship more and more irksome. He foresaw that his own life would be one of struggle, and I must partake his labours with him. The better to fit me for this task, we must now separate. He found my name a good passport to preferment, and he had procured for me the situation of private secretary to the Ambassador at Vienna, where I should enter on my career under the best auspices. In two years, I should return to my country, with a name well known and a reputation already founded.This is in some ways a slightly silly book, but in other ways profoundly interesting. The first half of it is dominated by the debate about the best way forward for Art, and for England, between Adrian - a thinly disguised Percy Bysshe Shelley, who happens to be the displaced heir to the recently abolished British throne - and his more ebullient friend Lord Raymond, who (apologies for the spoiler) eventually dies fighting for the Greeks against the Turks; can you imagine who he might be based on? In the year 2073 there has been no advance on technology since 1826, but our chums can just live in Windsor Castle and pop down to London now and then for a spot of governing. But given the importance of the relationship between Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley to literature and especially to sf, it is fascinating to have an insight, even if a fictionalised insight, from one of the protagonists. However the interpersonal relationships bit is not as exciting as I would have liked.
The second half, when a great plague comes and wipes out humanity, is better executed but perhaps not quite as interesting. I recently read The Last Man (aka No Other Man) by Alfred Noyes, written over a century later but, I now realise, leaning a bit on Shelley; in both cases, the surviving central characters flee the post-holocaust England through a devastated France to find refuge in Italy. There are some great descriptions of places Shelley must herself have known quite well, and she doesn't shirk the awfulness of death by disease (which she had far too much personal experience of). Romantic ideals fail through death of the gallant protagonists. (Adrian, the Shelley character, drowns in a boating accident, in case you were wondering.)
There's a nice framing narrative of Shelley herself finding the text of the story in prophecy in the cave of the Cumaean Sibyl near Naples. And in general, it's very interesting as an early example of post-apocalyptic fiction. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in knowing what happened to the author after Frankenstein - which was written 200 years ago this summer.
This came to the top of my pile as the most popular unread book that I acquired in 2014. Next on that list is Earthlight by Arthur C.Clarke - one I have in fact read before, but not for decades.