This is the substantially revised appearance of Spark's very first book (published in England in 1951 under the title Child...

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MARY SHELLEY: A Biography

This is the substantially revised appearance of Spark's very first book (published in England in 1951 under the title Child of Light), wherein she brings to bear on Mary Shelley all the sweet lucidity and formidable insight one finds in the best of the Spark novels. Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was the daughter of feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died shortly after her birth, and liberal philosopher William Godwin; her childhood had its deprivations (a stern, unimaginative stepmother), but Mary also got to hide behind the sofa and eavesdrop on Coleridge reciting his Ancient Mariner. At the age of 15, she met the 21-year-old Percy Shelley, an admirer of Godwin's. Two years later, they scandalized London by running off to Europe together (despite the fact that Percy was married at the time). It was apparently a true love match; and each was a voracious reader who stimulated the other's imagination. Their life together was full of tragedy (the suicides of Mary's half-sister, and Percy's wife, Harriet; the deaths of three of their young children--only Percy, Jr., survived), culminating in Percy's drowning off the coast of Italy in 1822. But Spark also describes the happier moments: Percy's creative trances (Mary became the editor of his writings), and that famous summer of 1816 in Switzerland, when Byron challenged everyone to come up with a ghost story--and Mary's contribution was Frankenstein. The last portion of Spark's biography is devoted to a shrewd exegesis of Mary's fiction, including the little-known but eerily prescient fantasy novel The Last Man (1826), which is set in a devastated England circa 2073. Overall, a highly sympathetic biography that takes Mary Shelley on her own terms, refusing always to put a 19th-century life into a 20th-century pigeonhole.

Pub Date: July 29, 1987

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1987