Monday, August 8, 2011

#8: Mathilda by Mary Shelley

by Mary Shelley
-born in England, 1797
-144 Pages
-more about Shelley (via Goodreads)

Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Mary Shelley was the daughter of two of the era's most radical writers: William Godwin, the anarchist utopian, and the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
- At 17, she ran away with [married] poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom she married 2 years later when his wife committed suicide.
- Frankenstein was written in response to a challenge (between her, her husband, and Lord Byron) to write a horror story.
- Her unhappy marriage, additionally tainted by the deaths of 3 out of their 4 children, ended when her husband died in a boating accident 4 years after Frankenstein was published.  She never remarried.

Synopsis: (via Melville House)
With its shocking theme of father-daughter incest, Mary Shelley’s publisher—her father, known for his own subversive books— not only refused to publish Mathilda, he refused to return her only copy of the manuscript, and the work was never published in her lifetime.

His suppression of this passionate novella is perhaps understandable—unlike her first book, Frankenstein, written a year earlier, Mathilda uses fantasy to study a far more personal reality. It tells the story of a young woman whose mother died in her childbirth—just as Shelly’s own mother died after hers—and whose relationship with her bereaved father becomes sexually charged as he conflates her with his lost wife, while she becomes involved with a handsome poet. Yet, despite characters clearly based on herself, her father, and her husband, the narrator’s emotional and relentlessly self-examining voice lifts the story beyond autobiographical resonance into something more transcendent: a driven tale of a brave woman’s search for love, atonement, and redemption.

It took more than a century before the manuscript Mary Shelley gave her father was rediscovered. It is published here as a stand-alone volume for the first time.

My Impressions:
Wow.  This novella was much more about the internal angst and much more character driven than I was expecting.  What a great surprise.  The writing was captivating--really, just beautiful--from the very beginning.  At the onset, before the main character even goes into her tragic history, the language is fabulous (with fun punctuation too):
I am in a strange state of mind.  I am alone--quite alone--in the world--the blight of misfortune has passed over me and withered me; I know that I am about to die and I feel happy--joyous.--I feel my pulse; it beats fast: I place my thin hand on my cheek; it burns: there is a slight, quick spirit within me which is now emitting its last sparks.
The evocative language made for a suspenseful read at the first, and a personal experience throughout, much in the way Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre did at times.  Mary Shelley is an author I want to know more about (anyone want to recommend a good biography?) and you can be sure I'll be reading more of her writing.  This is the kind of book that I can't set down.
It was not like a human loveliness that these gentle smiles went and came; but as a sunbeam on a lake, now light and now obscure, flitting before as you strove to catch them, and fold them forever to your heart.


  1. I'm not familiar with this one, but based on your review, it's one I think I could really sink my teeth into. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Your review is such a relief! I have 2 women authors left and she is one of them.

  3. I've never read Shelley, but this is one for the wish list!

  4. Andi, if you've liked anything by the Brontes, then I think that you'd like this one. Make sure you're in the mood for some of that wind-swept-moor despair. :)

    Heidi, I love your idea of reading the women authors--seems like such a nice selection. The 2 I've read I've really liked.

    JoAnn, I hadn't either...I had no idea that she wrote so beautifully--I'm glad I found out!


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