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Lively, lucid and long,
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This review is from: Mary Shelley (Hardcover)
`.......when you find yourself walking the streets of London in a daze ........you hear the clatter of iron wheels,....... see in a sudden swish of black silk and the glimpse of a shawl, Mary and Claire hurrying down a narrow street towards a carriage where Shelley is waiting, in 1816, to lead them to adventures such as these ....... two young women have only read about in novels.' Miranda Seymour's Preface ends with this vivid cameo and begins her captivating biography of the famous poet's wife, written with the liquid grace characteristic of her all writing.
Mary (nee Godwin) Shelley was her mother's daughter in that she inherited Mary Wollstonecraft's patronage for women's independence, and her disregard for the accepted mores of the early nineteenth century. Mary's rash elopement with Percy Bysshe Shelley whose wife was pregnant with his first child, in a ménage a trois with her half-sister Claire, created such scandal that henceforth she would find herself socially ostracised, save from those who shared her own feminist values. It blighted her life, for Shelley was a man who left a trail of misery wherever he went.
Seymour makes the most of the ensuing years as Shelley selfishly dragged the sisters around Europe: the tragic loss of three children in infancy; the writing of Frankenstein, Mary's first novel; the archness of her father William Godwin, torn between the loss of his daughter and his need for money from Shelley; and Byron's appalling treatment of Claire and the illegitimate daughter he left her with. Add to all this Mary's loyal struggle to further Shelley's reputation as a poet after the tragedy of his drowning and her efforts to restrain those who would publish damaging details of the poet in a less than a truthful biography and you have all the ingredients of a gripping novel; just how this book reads. Seymour examines Frankenstein, dispelling popular misconceptions, and deals perspicaciously with Mary's other novels.
Seymour's acknowledgements end the book with the note that it had `often seemed a dauntingly ambitious project.' She fulfilled it-----handsomely. And there's a bonus; the book (mine the 2000 John Murray version) intrinsically is beautifully presented, its six hundred and fifty five pages printed in good sized readable print with interesting and relevant illustrations, copious notes, and a very detailed index. It's a rewarding read; right off the top shelf.