This book is nothing short of stunning. An utter tour de force of clarity, engagement and compassion. Justice indeed for these two indivisible trailblazers.
What's more Romantic Outlaws is written in a gloriously eloquent yet accessible style, rendering it able to satisfy a wide range of audiences from the scholarly to the newcomer. Quite simply not just the best biography on Mary Shelley or Mary Wollstonecraft that I've read but the best biography full stop.
I'm a longstanding devotee of both Mary's lives and works. Shelley in particular. There's not a biography on Mary Shelley I've not read, nor a work of hers I don't own. I've her journals, her letters and even a facsimile edition of the original scrawled on manuscript of her most famous work, Frankenstein which is a prized possession. You could say I'm a huge fan. I therefore came to this biography intrigued but with only moderate expectations. Biographies of such luminaries tend to walk one of two paths: worthy, stodgy and leaden or overly flowery, overly dramatised froth. Yet Charlotte Gordon has created a unique work here that somehow reaches into the lives of both women, presents in stunning detail the events, uses lively, engaging prose and makes them breath. This is as close as I believe it is possible to get to a contextualised truth without being there.
The unique interleaving of lives appealed to me hugely. It reminds me of a novel by one of the masters of humanistic storytelling, (Wilkie Collins, Stephen King) in the way character drives narrative, just as it does in life. As I neared the end of each chapter I wanted to stay with that storyline. Yet as soon as I picked up the thread of the alternate, I felt exactly the same.
Fiction is my main love as a reader. This text was so well structured that, whilst still being rigorously accurate, it reads like one of the best novels. After all, when you think about it, the times these women lived in, the lives they lead were chock full of so many significant happenings and developments as to appear more fictionalised than real.
And yet... Ms Gordon also manages to highlight simply through skilful juxtaposition the gaping holes these two women left in each others lives. Two crucial chapters in the first third of the book illustrate this most poignantly: The Sublime and Rapturous Moment (in which Mary Godwin meets and falls for Shelley) is immediately followed by "On The Education of Daughters" featuring Mary Godwin's hopes for female emancipation. As I turned the page from one to the next I realised with a jolt just what a masterpiece this work is. Gordon allows the two Mary's to speak to each other by the co-location of their imaginings of each other. By presenting the strands thusly, the reader can't help but muse on whether Mary Godwin would have taken the same path had her mother been a living rather than an almost godlike ghost in her head. And how would Mary Wollstoncraft feel, knowing all her hopes and desires for a woman to be a free spirited, unvanquished intellectual would be realised by her own daughter? A tragedy indeed for both women that they only shared this world for ten days.
Despite their incredible significance , the lives of these two women contain universal truths. The need to be heard, to be valued, to be loved. But few of us have the strength of courage to defy societal expectations in as many ways and as bravely as they did. As a woman and a feminist I am immensely grateful to both Mary's for their bravery. I've no doubt my life is better for the way they pushed forward at a time they would indeed have been seen as 'outlaws'. Truly groundbreaking, extraordinary people at a time of immense social development and glorious literary richness. Yet here they're never idealised. They're presented with all their mistakes and foibles and not overly revered. And this makes them all the more accessible.
I'm indebted to Ms Gorden for this incredible work. It's as enjoyable as it is informative. I consider this to be essential reading for anyone interested in not just these women but the historical period it is written in or the nature of inequalities still faced by women today.
Wide ranging appeal and wide ranging importance make this a seminal work. I'd urge you to buy it.
Thank you, Ms Gordon. You've produced a definitive work that breaths as much life and soul into its subjects as Victor Frankenstein did to his creation. I hope it finds as much recognition as it deserves. It's now got a coveted place on my bookshelves between A Vindication of The Rights Of Women and Mary Shelley's Journals. An utter triumph.
This was a totally engrossing biog of both Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelly. I learnt so much about the times they lived in (totally horrendous for women) and the affect their, albeit hugely brave, choices had on their lives. I simply could not put the book down and read it cover to cover in 3 nights. I cannot recommend it more highly. It is beautifully written, amazingly comprehensive and the story includes sex, scandal, true love, betrayal, elopements, suicides, the origins of Frankenstein, exquisite quotes from Shelly, Keats and Byron - what more could ANYONE want!! This is a book I will keep and read many times over for the education but mostly for the totally absorbing entertainment value.
I am obsessed with this book. I keep boring my other half by reading bits out or quoting from it but there is so much fascinating information it's hard not to.
Before I read this book I knew the basics about Mary Shelley and almost nothing about Mary Wollstonecraft but now I want to go and ready everything they have written.It's not just their lives, which are fascinating and tragic in themselves but also the times they lived in. The author did such a fantastic job of bringing both times alive that I know feel like a bit of an expert (I know ark at me!)
I would recommend this book to any fans of either women (obviously) and also history buffs because this book is packed with riveting stuff. Finally, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story and here you get two! I have cried, actually tears, reading this book ... and not just once either. Buy it, read it, you won't be sorry!
This is an excellent biography. Having read a number of works by both Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft plus other biographies of their respective lives, I think this edition deserves especial acclaim. It contains extensive research and, as other reviewers have stated, it is a brilliant 'read'. Charlotte Gordon has structured the study in such a way that the reader learns about both subjects in alternate chapters. This gives the book momentum and adds a sense of 'switchback' and 'fast forward' to keep the pace alive and, I think, reflects the vitality of these two 'revolutionary' women. It is a major tome to read, but it honestly doesn't feel like it; the font size and chapter lengths are conducive to the management of this lengthy biography. I can honestly say I have really looked forward to reading sections every day and the writing style is so intriguingly absorbing that it is almost 'unputdownable'!
This mammoth book is a brilliantly written double biography of two of the greatest female figures - and figures overall - of late 18th and early 19th century English literature and political philosophy, probably one of the most famous and also misunderstood mother and daughter pairings in history. Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman, died in childbirth at the age of 38 giving birth to the future Mary Shelley, best known as the author of Frankenstein. They both struggled against the attitudes of their times, when women were considered their husbands' personal property, yet were also both married to brilliant and (in many ways, though not all) liberal-minded men, William Godwin, political philosopher and novelist; and Percy Shelley, famous poet and outrageous radical of the Romantic period. A lot of aspects of their lives mirror each other in being out of step with the morals of their own, and indeed of much later, times, loving and being loved by their men and giving birth outside wedlock; and having their own outspoken views about society and literature in an era when it was generally assumed that women could not hold properly considered views on such weighty matters. The structure of the book, with alternating chapters dealing chronologically with the lives of either of the two women, works well, though occasionally I did get momentarily confused about which Mary I was reading. Like I suspect many readers of this book, I was more familiar beforehand with the life of Mary Shelley than that of her mother, so there was little real confusion; someone not familiar with either of their lives might found this approach a little difficult. There are a fair number of interesting illustrations. This book would appeal to anyone interested in the lives of great writers, the development of political philosophy and literature during the Enlightenment, or even just interested in reading about colourful lives full of incident and controversy.
This was a readable, well-researched and sensitive account of two extraordinary women's lives. A terrific sense of what women faced in terms of discrimination at that time (not that it's perfect now!) as well as good accounts of literary texts such as Mary Shelley's novels. NB. Reading it on a Kindle has the disadvantage that one cannot easily access footnotes (there are no numbers on the pages) but would have to keep turning to the back of the book.
This is a superb book. The author has clearly done an enormous amount of detailed research and it makes for a fasinating read. I was interested in the lives of both these women and had not realised they were mother and daughter. The author compares their lives side by side so the chapters alternative between the two. On occasion, I did have to remind myself which Mary I was reading about but it's an interesting way of doing it as you wonder how both lives will end, rather than doing one first and then the other. I would highly recommend this book.
Absolutely fascinating book which I highly recommend. The stories of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley are told in alternating chapters and a wonderful picture emerges of these strong, unique women. They defied the rules of society, rejected the constraints put on women and forged a path for those who followed. There is so much to enjoy in this book that when I finished it I just wanted to start at the beginning and read it again.
Well written and very engaging - I’ve read a lot about the Georgian period and about the main players in the making of Frankenstein but less about Mary Wollstonecraft - this book fills in the gaps and covers the welknown ground with fresh insights and vigour. Great book.