Shelley’s Zastrozzi, A Romance: Anti-Jacobin Paranoiac Fantasy and the Semblance of Subversion

When Shelley published Zastrozzi in 1810, its Gothic conventions had already become a target of satire in the wake of anti-Jacobin polemics against the revolutionary zeal expressed in the “Pamphlet Wars” (1790-91). Although Shelley was entering an ideological battle that had apparently already been won by reactionary anti-Jacobin forces, conservative paranoia provided a target-rich environment for a transgressive aesthetic that played upon fears of persecution, conspiracy, and libertinism. Shelley exploits this opportunity by positioning Zastrozzi not as a satire of the Gothic (as several prominent Shelley scholars have suggested) nor a mouthpiece (in the character of Zastrozzi) for his own subversive philosophical commitments, but as a diagnostic study of anti-Jacobin paranoiac fantasy, expressed through one of their favorite targets of derision—the gothic novel.