An evocative, empathetic treatment of what was, in all senses of the word, a difficult life.

A new biography of the author of Frankenstein that aims to comprehend her character rather than assess or advance her literary standing.

The first part of the story is well-known. In 1814, 16-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of two brilliant and celebrated liberal thinkers, eloped with her father’s married disciple, Percy Shelley. Two years later, Mary’s masterpiece was conceived on a stormy night at Byron’s house in Switzerland. After eight itinerant years in Percy’s entourage, which included her stepsister, Claire Clairmont, she returned to England with her one surviving child, widowed, penniless, and, despite first-class literary connections that she retained throughout her life, a social pariah. Determined to exhalt Percy’s literary reputation but forbidden by her intransigent father-in-law from using his name in print, she wrangled with publishers and biographers behind the scenes, writing what she could to support her family. She died in 1851, almost 30 years after her husband. In able if somewhat repetitive prose, novelist and biographer Seymour (Robert Graves, 1995, etc.) considers the personality of a woman who, having defied convention in youth, courted respectability for the rest of her life. Though won over by the poet's passions for sexual freedom and social justice, Mary was never a Shelleyan radical; she married Percy as soon as she could and always resented Claire’s presence in their ménage. Most biographers have considered how the events in Mary’s life fed the chronic sense of abandonment that Frankenstein’s Creature so magnificently expresses. Seymour prefers to emphasize Mary’s obsessive temperament and her guilt over the suicide of Percy’s first wife and over her own withdrawal from the poet before he died. Defending Mary’s later narrowness, Seymour points out the unhappiness of a life burdened throughout by financial distress and the distortions of celebrity. Aside from her political ideas and activities, which Seymour carefully tracks, Mary’s other intellectual interests are rather neglected. They are better addressed by Muriel Spark’s 40-year-old study and by more recent criticism, to which this work serves as a worthy complement.

An evocative, empathetic treatment of what was, in all senses of the word, a difficult life.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-8021-1702-3

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2001


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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