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

MARY SHELLEY

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

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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

NIGHT

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

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