Friday, September 07, 2018

The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator. Catherine Reef. 2018. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Mary Shelley had been dead a year when her son unlocked her portable desk and found the remains of human heart. The heart, he knew, had been his father's. It had rested in the desk for thirty years, unseen and untouched, since the day in 1822 when Mary Shelley tenderly wrapped it in pages of poetry and put it away. Dust and bits of dried-up muscle were all that was left.

Premise/plot: Catherine Reef's newest biography for young adults is Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator. Frankenstein is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. 

Words to describe this one: dramatic, emotional, compelling, fascinating, heartbreaking, thought-provoking.

Mary Shelley's life was just as tragic as it was unconventional. Her parents were near-celebrities among the intellectually elite. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was an unconventional woman--an early feminist--who believed in living--experiencing--her life on her own terms despite the frowns of society. She believed in following her heart even if it meant breaking all the rules, even if it led to pain and heartbreak. She brought an illegitimate daughter with her into her marriage with William Godwin (Fanny). Godwin was a like-minded free thinker. At least when he was young with no teenage daughters of his own to raise! It would almost be easier to list everything he was against then to list everything he was for. Anti-tradition, anti-religion, anti-marriage, anti-government, etc. Both Godwin and Wollstonecraft were philosophically-minded writers whose works were published and somewhat applauded and celebrated--at least in certain circles. Mary Godwin's mother died when she was just days old. Godwin who at one time believed he'd never, ever marry now found himself marrying a second time. The woman (Mary Jane Clairmont) he married brought two children (Charles and Jane) from a previous relationship. It was a BLENDED family certainly: Fanny, Charles, Jane, Mary--and then "baby" William.

Her father as I mentioned was well-known in certain circles and their house--their bookshop--had plenty of well-known or soon-to-be well-known authors.

When Mary was a teenager--perhaps fifteen--she met a young would-be poet named Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was married--married with children. But neither one cared about conventions or morality. It was LOVE. The choice she made at sixteen to follow her heart's passion would change her life for better or worse forever and ever. Perhaps even more startling to modern readers is Mary's decision to bring her step-sister, Jane, with her. The two of them would run away with Percy Bysshe Shelley to Europe. It wasn't just a departure from England but from convention. (They'd return to England...but never quite to convention.)

Their lives were packed with DRAMA, DRAMA, AND MORE DRAMA. Mary found herself at the center of it all--an eyewitness to an era. The Romantic poets didn't just approach poetry in a "new," "fresh," "innovative," "genius," way. It was a lifestyle; the poems were a result of how they saw the world around them, what they thought, how they thought. It was thrilling AND disturbing. They wouldn't want it any other way. But would Mary? The book does NOT address that. Perhaps we'll never know the many emotional layers of her heart and mind. (How she felt about her husband, her sister, their many friends that brought chaos and fun into their lives.)

My thoughts: Mary Shelley's life was like a wreck--car, train, ship, take your pick--a devastating crash-boom-bang in many ways. But it makes for a fascinating read. I appreciated that the book was more than just a traditional biography. It also focused on her works. It focuses on Frankenstein, of course, but it also focuses on her other works. She didn't just write one book. She kept writing throughout her life. The book includes how her work(s) were critically received (then and now).  It also focused on relationships. To read of Mary Shelley is to read of the Romantic poets. For better or worse.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge
Linked to sign up page

Family Tree Reading Challenge

Family Tree Reading Challenge
Link to sign-up page

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge
Linked To Sign Up Page

2018 Charity Challenge (Sign Up)

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge
Link to sign up page

2018 Picture Book Challenge

2018 Picture Book Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge
click image to go to sign up post

Good Rules Cheat List

Board books and picture books = new is anything published after 2013
Early readers and chapter books = new is anything published after 2013
Contemporary (general/realistic) = new is anything published after 2007
Speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy = new is anything published after 2007
Classics = anything published before 1968
Historical fiction = new is anything published after 2007
Mysteries = new is anything published after 1988
Nonfiction = new is anything published after 2007
Christian books = new is anything published after 2000
Bibles = new is anything published after 1989

My Blog List

(Old) Challenge Participants

Becky's Hosting These Challenges

100 Books Project: Fill in the Gaps

Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP