A fictionalized verse biography of the tortured genius behind Frankenstein.
Hemphill here turns her poetic sights on the young life of 19th-century English prose master Mary Shelley (1797-1851), who famously authored Frankenstein at the tender age of 20. Much as she did with Sylvia Plath (Your Own, Sylvia, 2007), the author explores the particular challenges facing a gifted female artist who allies herself with a renowned male poet. Central to the plot is the parentage of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneering feminist philosopher who died days after Mary was born, and William Godwin, a radical political philosopher who espoused free love for all but his daughters. In her father’s salon, Mary meets her future husband, budding Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, when she is only 16; he is 21 and married. Though initially finding Percy “fairylike / with the curly blond hair / of a schoolgirl” and “hands frail as silk stockings,” Mary soon becomes smitten, especially with the attention Shelley pays her intellect. When her father forbids her to see him, Mary runs off with him, beginning their exile in Europe, which leads to the birth of some of the greatest Romantic literature of the day and a raft of brutal personal tribulations for Mary.
A bleak but riveting portrait of the artist as a young woman. (author’s note, biographical notes, Shelley bibliography, suggested reading) (Poetry. 13 & up.)