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We know the facts of Mary Shelley’s life in some detail—the death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, within days of her birth; the upbringing in the house of her father, William Godwin, in a house full of radical thinkers, poets, philosophers, and writers; her elopement, at the age of seventeen, with Percy Shelley; the years of peripatetic travel across Europe that follow We know the facts of Mary Shelley’s life in some detail—the death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, within days of her birth; the upbringing in the house of her father, William Godwin, in a house full of radical thinkers, poets, philosophers, and writers; her elopement, at the age of seventeen, with Percy Shelley; the years of peripatetic travel across Europe that followed. But there has been no literary biography written this century, and previous books have ignored the real person—what she actually thought and felt and why she did what she did—despite the fact that Mary and her group of second-generation Romantics were extremely interested in the psychological aspect of life. In this probing narrative, Fiona Sampson pursues Mary Shelley through her turbulent life, much as Victor Frankenstein tracked his monster across the arctic wastes. Sampson has written a book that finally answers the question of how it was that a nineteen-year-old came to write a novel so dark, mysterious, anguished, and psychologically astute that it continues to resonate two centuries later. No previous biographer has ever truly considered this question, let alone answered it.


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We know the facts of Mary Shelley’s life in some detail—the death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, within days of her birth; the upbringing in the house of her father, William Godwin, in a house full of radical thinkers, poets, philosophers, and writers; her elopement, at the age of seventeen, with Percy Shelley; the years of peripatetic travel across Europe that follow We know the facts of Mary Shelley’s life in some detail—the death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, within days of her birth; the upbringing in the house of her father, William Godwin, in a house full of radical thinkers, poets, philosophers, and writers; her elopement, at the age of seventeen, with Percy Shelley; the years of peripatetic travel across Europe that followed. But there has been no literary biography written this century, and previous books have ignored the real person—what she actually thought and felt and why she did what she did—despite the fact that Mary and her group of second-generation Romantics were extremely interested in the psychological aspect of life. In this probing narrative, Fiona Sampson pursues Mary Shelley through her turbulent life, much as Victor Frankenstein tracked his monster across the arctic wastes. Sampson has written a book that finally answers the question of how it was that a nineteen-year-old came to write a novel so dark, mysterious, anguished, and psychologically astute that it continues to resonate two centuries later. No previous biographer has ever truly considered this question, let alone answered it.

30 review for In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    A very careful, gentle, evaluating book that probes with an interesting degree of suspicion into the life of Mary Shelley. It's focus is on the years when she was writing and publishing Frankenstein, but the rest of her life before and after is including too - though in a highly condensed way. I was continually interested that Sampson would not take Mary Shelley at face value, she insists throughout that her diaries were written for public consumption and we can expect that she was self censorin A very careful, gentle, evaluating book that probes with an interesting degree of suspicion into the life of Mary Shelley. It's focus is on the years when she was writing and publishing Frankenstein, but the rest of her life before and after is including too - though in a highly condensed way. I was continually interested that Sampson would not take Mary Shelley at face value, she insists throughout that her diaries were written for public consumption and we can expect that she was self censoring throughout, her artful letters, she argues, show her performing and role playing in order to manage relationships. The person that she considers mostly likely to have destroyed Mary Shelley's early correspondence with her father is Mary Shelley herself. The flip side of all this is when Sampson draws on her correspondence to suggest that Mary's sexually was fairly fluid, the suggestion is intriguing but impossible to take seriously - the author has taught the reader too well by that stage. Early in the book I feared that P.B. Shelley would elbow Mary out of her own biography, but Sampson manages to rein him in. Though obviously his manic presence in the story, his enthusiasms, chronic mismanagement of money, insistence on Mary practising Free Love, wild projects to 'liberate' young women like his first wife Harriet and then Mary, his vegetarianism (which Sampson considers hampered Mary Shelley's recoveries from her frequent pregnancies) and politics are all very noisy and threaten to drown out Mary Shelley as she makes her quieter way. The chief difference between this book and the thoroughly enjoyable Young Romantics are the regular links back to Frankenstein which Sampson shows as emerging from Mary's own personal history and interests, absorbing influences from P.B. Shelley and her environment - the severe weather of 1818, a castle Frankenstein that she passes, the question of if she perceived herself as a monster, her longing for a closer and unconditionally accepting relationship with her father - a theme that would return to more explicitly in Mathilda, the way in which her relationship with her father was repeated in her relationship with P.B. Shelley - with both men distracted away from Mary by less intellectual women (in Shelley's case repeatedly so). Sampson tells us that Mary Shelley emerged before the cultural shift of the Victorian era which restricted the role of women and limited any desire they had to be public intellectuals such as was possible for Mary's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, perhaps there is something in this but Mary Shelley published Frankenstein anonymously and only came out as its author to squash rumours that P.B. Shelley had written it, in any case as Sampson suggests that Mary missed her chance to lead a literary salon by staying for so many years in Italy where she mixed only with eccentric Britons who for various reasons had fled Britain and where unlikely to return there. I am not sure I was convinced by Sampson's opinion that Byron was impressed by Mary's literary abilities and on that basis asked her to write fair copies of his draft works, for Sampson this means that Shelley was Byron privileged first reader, it struck as likely that he recognised that she had neat handwriting and, unlike the rest of the people they dealt with, was reliable. A very likeable book though a painful story - family breakdowns, suicide, faithless friends, feuds, death, death and death (particularly of young children), struggling to keep families together without enough money. Back in Britain, Sampson tells us, Mary Shelley got an advance of £150 for a book that took her three years to write, roughly equivalent to the income of a male day labourer - surely there must have been more to the story than that as Mary managed to put her one surviving son through the private school of Harrow, but eventually her old git of a father-in-law did die - though he waited until he was ninety first- and her son inherited the Shelley family estate, whereupon Mary was obliged to transform from literary woman and part time penny pincher into full time financial manager. It was quite a life and a long way from P.B. Shelley borrowing money so that they could elope.

  2. 4 out of 5

    leynes

    This book will always hold a special place in my heart. I attended a reading at Shakespeare and Company (the most famous English bookshop in Paris) where Fiona Sampson read and discussed her work In Search of Mary Shelley. It was a truly magical evening that I will never forget. And if that wasn't good enough, Fiona signed my book that day. Like what? Prior to this, I didn't own any signed books. So, yeah. I managed to cross out two things from my bucket list, and In Search of Mary Shelley will This book will always hold a special place in my heart. I attended a reading at Shakespeare and Company (the most famous English bookshop in Paris) where Fiona Sampson read and discussed her work In Search of Mary Shelley. It was a truly magical evening that I will never forget. And if that wasn't good enough, Fiona signed my book that day. Like what? Prior to this, I didn't own any signed books. So, yeah. I managed to cross out two things from my bucket list, and In Search of Mary Shelley will always be a proof of that. Fiona Sampson wrote a biography that is both heartfelt yet objective at the same time. You can tell that facts were most important to her and if there were differing accounts of the same event, Fiona always made sure to be transparent on that front with the reader. There's no bullshit in here. However, at times, Fiona didn't manage to hold back her own personal opinion and her subtle roasts of Percy (the ass) was the best thing this biography offered. I was fucking shooketh. I wish Fiona was my aunt with whom I could discuss the literary greats. Her sense of humour is awesome and exactly my cup of tea. I need her to spill more tea for me. And boy is there tea when it comes to Mary Shelley's life. Strap your seat belt and prepare for a lot of death and pining. Like, so much death, I am still shocked that one person lived through the maternal death of her mother, multiple miscarriages, the suicide of her sister, the drowing of her husband ... and that doesn't even begin to cover the other tribulations that Mary had to face in her life, like her husband being the total manwhore and not understanding of her depression, her dad who reprimanded her for actually living what he only dared to preach (like GROW SOME BALLS, GODWIN!) and her "friends" turning from her after Percy drowned. This woman. I am in awe that she stood strong (or at least semi-strong) through all of that. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1814, Mary began a romance with one of her father's political followers, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was already married. Together with Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, Mary and Shelley left for France and travelled through Europe. Upon their return to England, Mary was pregnant with Percy's child. Over the next two years, she and Percy faced ostracism, constant debt, and the death of their prematurely born daughter. They married in late 1816, after the suicide of Percy Shelley's first wife, Harriet. In 1816, the couple famously spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland, where Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein. The Shelleys left Britain in 1818 for Italy, where their second and third children died before Mary Shelley gave birth to her last and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. In 1822, her husband drowned when his sailing boat sank during a storm near Viareggio. A year later, Mary Shelley returned to England and from then on devoted herself to the upbringing of her son and a career as a professional author. The last decade of her life was dogged by illness, probably caused by the brain tumour that was to kill her at the age of 53.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. To coincide with the 200th anniversary of the release of Frankenstein, Fiona Sampson examines the inner influences and background of writer Mary Shelley. I admit I know very little about Mary Shelley other than the fact that she married the famous poet Percy Shelley as a teenager and was widowed at a young age. I have also never read Frankenstein, but nevertheless I was intrigued to see what could possess a woman of this time to wr I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. To coincide with the 200th anniversary of the release of Frankenstein, Fiona Sampson examines the inner influences and background of writer Mary Shelley. I admit I know very little about Mary Shelley other than the fact that she married the famous poet Percy Shelley as a teenager and was widowed at a young age. I have also never read Frankenstein, but nevertheless I was intrigued to see what could possess a woman of this time to write something that is now considered a classic, in an era where women simply weren't encouraged to write 'this kind' of novel. I found this well researched and thorough. Sampson manages to open up a notoriously private woman's life and fascinating past, where she was surrounded by some great intellectual thinkers of the time. It was great to see who or what influenced Mary to write her story. She manages to bring life to a woman tormented by her many pregnancies and infant deaths, and how her outpouring of grief and redemption comes in th form of writing. At times, these reads almost like a novel, and that's what makes it so engaging. It also flows well. Most chapters set up a scene before dissecting the chapter with various facts and interesting discussions. It's structured in such a way that it doesn't divert from the facts or diverge into various distracting sidestories, which I appreciated. I do think I would have benefitted from reading Frankenstein before reading this. I think that's the main intention here, and although I gained a lot of insight into Mary Shelley, I would have gained more having read her novel first. I think I would have perhaps been more 'into' this as well having done that, as although I found the overall premise interesting I've found I'm maybe just not as interested in this time period as I am other periods of history. This is purely a personal preference however. That said, this is a great introduction to Mary Shelley, a character full of intrigue with a fascinating past.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paula Bardell-Hedley

    Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is remembered above all for creating a monster - the grotesque but perceptive creature from her 1818 novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus – although, at the time, she was renown far more for her scandalous behaviour. Following her death in 1851 she was immortalized as widow of the doomed Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and as daughter of the founding feminist philosopher, Mary Wollstonecraft and radical theoretician, William Godwin. For some years t Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is remembered above all for creating a monster - the grotesque but perceptive creature from her 1818 novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus – although, at the time, she was renown far more for her scandalous behaviour. Following her death in 1851 she was immortalized as widow of the doomed Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and as daughter of the founding feminist philosopher, Mary Wollstonecraft and radical theoretician, William Godwin. For some years thereafter the bulk of Mary's literary output was tied up in a beribboned box marked 'lady scribbler!' and neglected by all but her most committed devotees. Modern readers of the Classics are generally familiar with the basics of her biography, quite simply because there has been so much written about the influential literary and philosophical movement of which she was a part. It is likely, therefore, you will be aware her mother died shortly after giving birth to Mary in 1797; that she outraged Regency England by 'eloping' with her married lover; and she lived an unconventional existence surrounded by some of the foremost writers and radical thinkers of the day. In addition, you are almost bound to have some knowledge of her being widowed in 1822 when Percy drowned in a boating accident off the Kingdom of Sardinia (now Italy). For quite some time, however, next to nothing was known of her inner life, intellectual influences or sizeable body of literary works. Muriel Spark did much to redress this bewildering neglect in her excellent 1988 life history, Child of Light: Mary Shelley , but there is now an accessible, insightful biography coming out in 2018 to coincide with Frankenstein's 200th anniversary celebrations. British poet and writer, Fiona Sampson MBE, attempts to understand the intensely private young women behind a novel of obsession, pride and hunger for love. She endeavours to “bring Mary closer to us”, ask what we know about “who and how and why she is” and “about how it is for her.” For instance, she examines how being pregnant and grieving over lost infants for a significant part of her married life reflected in Mary Shelley's writing; and wonders from where an eighteen year old girl living in such a misogynistic era developed the strength of character and prowess to compose a unique Gothic masterpiece. Sadly, a trunk of her juvenilia was lost in Paris when she eloped in 1814, and many of her letters were subsequently destroyed, but Sampson's detailed analysis raises a number of interesting questions and she works hard to restore Mary's often maligned reputation. While Percy was without doubt a talented, enlightened, beautiful wild child, he could also be self-serving, fickle, sexually incontinent and in many ways typical of his day in the treatment of women. Mary was his intellectual equal, but was seldom treated as such. You can at times detect something of Sampson's exasperation at the selfish behaviour of the men and various female dependants in Mary's life. In modern parlance, we might well describe her a 'doormat'. Mary survived her husband by almost thirty years, supporting herself and their only remaining son, Percy Florence, with her pen. She received little sympathy from those around her following the former's death (with the possible exception of Lord Byron), and for the most part was left to cope alone. Nevertheless, her groundbreaking horror novel is now recognised as a landmark work of science fiction, and scholars regard her as being a major luminary of the Romantic movement. In Search of Mary Shelley is an engaging and powerful portrait of a complex and often misrepresented figure. Indeed, it offers an ideal introduction to the life, work and times of an extraordinary woman.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    The “girl” of this sub-title made a life altering decision at age 16 that set in motion a dizzying (for its time and ours) 8 year partnership with poet Percy Blythe Shelley. Fiona Sampson traces Mary Shelley’s life with recurrent themes: Mary as an orphan, a disowned daughter, a lonely wife, a person used by relatives and hangers on and a dedicated writer and autodidact. This is a different kind of interpretive biography. Besides being fully interior it is written in the present and future tenses The “girl” of this sub-title made a life altering decision at age 16 that set in motion a dizzying (for its time and ours) 8 year partnership with poet Percy Blythe Shelley. Fiona Sampson traces Mary Shelley’s life with recurrent themes: Mary as an orphan, a disowned daughter, a lonely wife, a person used by relatives and hangers on and a dedicated writer and autodidact. This is a different kind of interpretive biography. Besides being fully interior it is written in the present and future tenses. A paraphrased example is: “the children will die there, but Mary doesn’t know this yet”. Some significant events are added after the fact, for instance in the Mary-Percy “elopement” Sampson doesn’t note that three people ran away until Mary’s step-mother appears in Calais to retrieve her daughter, Jane, Mary’s step-sister. Jane doesn't return with her mother, instead, Jane, Mary and Percy, 3 very young people, gad about Europe (sometimes on foot), renting houses, having (and burying) children, dealing (or not dealing) with family in England and writing, translating and copying. They join with other arts oriented expats and live together and apart. Without regard for each other, they freely love. While Percy expects an inheritance, for the present, money is always an issue. Mary seems to be the adult in the room. She had been brought up in her father’s intellectual circles. She had been sent to Scotland, and learned to fend for herself. This was some, but surely not adequate, preparation for life with Percy Shelley. In the 8 years with Shelley (that ended with his death) she lost a step sister to suicide; bore 4 children and buried 3; wrote Frankenstein, travel books, a few other novels; copied (sounded like edited) Percy’s works, assisted her half-sister in her pregnancy, her dealings with the baby’s father and her grief upon the baby’s death; married Percy when his wife killed herself all the while moving often, sometimes great distances. Percy was busy too, often away, most likely with other women, including Mary’s step-sister, sometimes with Lord Byron who was not the best influence (for a portrait of how bad an influence he was, see "Lady Byron and Her Daughters"). While Sampson brings modern psychology to her interpretation, she does not mention PTSD from which Mary’s depression and all that follows has to have spawned. Her famous mother died in (her) childbirth, and her also famous father did some mentoring along with a host of undermining. I’m guessing that Mary included the flirty-flighty Jane in the elopement, because at age 16 Jane was the only constant in her life. Sampson has a good analysis of Mary's step-mother, but she is easy on her Mary's father and step-sister. "Romantic Outlaws" gives a scathing look at the how those closest to Mary both abandoned her and hectored her for support. You can see how Percy Shelley, who is said to have great charms, was irresistible to this 16 year old and perceived as both a friend/husband, an adventure and a way out of a cold and unaffirming family situation. This short book captures a lot. The writer knows the material and the times. The plates are of pictures you want to see. The index worked for me. This is not a general biography. It is recommended for those interested in Mary Shelley and know something of her story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Beth Bonini

    There are three strands to Mary Shelley’s life which biographer Fiona Sampson returns to again and again: first, there is the legacy of her famous feminist mother Mary Wollstonecraft - ‘taking for granted the participation of women as intellectual equals’ (p. 154); then the influence of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom Mary persists in thinking of a ‘soul mate’ despite much evidence to the contrary; and finally the work, the writing, and especially the extraordinary creation of Frankenstei There are three strands to Mary Shelley’s life which biographer Fiona Sampson returns to again and again: first, there is the legacy of her famous feminist mother Mary Wollstonecraft - ‘taking for granted the participation of women as intellectual equals’ (p. 154); then the influence of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom Mary persists in thinking of a ‘soul mate’ despite much evidence to the contrary; and finally the work, the writing, and especially the extraordinary creation of Frankenstein, written when Mary was only in her late teens. It’s a life much steeped in legend and easily given over to mythologising. As Sampson acknowledges, Mary’s death confirms her in the ‘high rank in the aristocracy of genius’, but her life was marked by struggle of every kind - and the three other ‘geniuses’ most enduringly associated with Mary were all notable for their various forms of abandonment and betrayal of her. Mary’s famous mother died mere days after her birth, and her famous father William Godwin more or less rejected her, first when he married her step-mother Mary Jane Clairmont when she was only four years old, and more brutally when she ran away with Percy Shelley at the age of sixteen. And then there is the poet Shelley. What a cad. Sampson refers to Shelley’s charisma over and over again; obviously he had the gift in life of attracting people and making them love him. But that cult of personality truly does not jump off the page. Instead, Sampson creates a portrait of the poet as a monster of selfishness. Mary and Percy’s decade together is an endless and exhausting whirl of moving houses and countries, avoiding creditors, managing poor health and Percy’s hypochondria (and vegetarianism), burying children and negotiating romantic entanglements. Somehow, in the midst of all this chaos, the two writers also managed to read and write a great deal. That aspect of their life fascinated me and suggest that Mary and Percy were both geniuses at compartmentalising their ‘art’ from their lives. Sampson makes many, many inferences in this biography - and the majority of them seemed both clever and psychologically acute. But she definitely has a style of inserting her detective work into the biography, often in the style of overt musings, and there were times when I thought she went too far and imagined too much in her creative reconstructions. This was particularly bothersome to me in the beginning of the novel, when Sampson has little to no first-hand sources for her surmises. All of Mary’s journals and letters from her childhood have disappeared, or were destroyed; Sampson points out the strangeness of that in a household ‘built on paper’. Later, Mary has the tendency of self-editing - of not referring to, or barely mentioning, the extraordinary emotional upheavals which were part and parcel of her life with Shelley. Again, Sampson has to sometimes imagine what Mary made of - for instance - her step-sister Claire’s constant intrusion into her romantic and domestic life with Shelley. If Mary, post-Percy, devoted herself to the job of mourning widow and keeper of the Romantic flame, and that seems to be the case, then perhaps it is inevitable that the subsequent decades of Mary’s life fall a bit flat. But was that actually the case, or only the impression left by this biography? Sampson does make a stab at describing Mary’s life as the widow of the famous poet: apparently Mary supported herself and her one surviving child (Percy Florence) by writing; she had a variety of friendships with both men and women, some of them quite controversial; and she almost singlehandedly ran the Shelley estate in the last decade of her life. And yet, Mary’s life post-Shelley is dealt with summarily - and ‘reads’ like an anti-climax. Still, those ten extraordinary years - Mary’s life between the ages of 16 and 26 - were surely amongst the most fascinating to be found in any biography, and I was persuaded that Sampson has enlarged the subject of Frankenstein’s creator.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Wu

    This book left me dissatisfied but I'm in a mood to be generous and award it five stars for lucidity, readability and the fact that it provoked me to try and express my feelings about it in this review. It is not new to go "In Search Of" a towering literary figure. I have at least one other "In Search Of" biography in this very room with me right now. But it is nevertheless exceedingly apt, apt with a poet's precision, to be In Search of Mary Shelley. And Fiona Sampson is a poet who writes with e This book left me dissatisfied but I'm in a mood to be generous and award it five stars for lucidity, readability and the fact that it provoked me to try and express my feelings about it in this review. It is not new to go "In Search Of" a towering literary figure. I have at least one other "In Search Of" biography in this very room with me right now. But it is nevertheless exceedingly apt, apt with a poet's precision, to be In Search of Mary Shelley. And Fiona Sampson is a poet who writes with extraordinary attention to detail, gleaning everything she can from every surviving sentence of Mary Shelley's novels, journals and letters, and those of her friends, so the book actually lives up to its title. Fiona Sampson is, for sure, a woman in search of Mary Shelley, and she is searching for her very conscientiously in the enduring and compelling words that Mary Shelley wrote. And I really sympathise with that search. I share it. I have been searching for a while. I am searching more than ever now after finishing this tantalising book. For Mary Shelley is elusive. She is, still, in a way, anonymous. She hides behind precise and evocative language. She defies even the modern magnifying lens of scholarly scrutiny. Some carping critics are still not entirely decided, as they were undecided at the time, how much of Frankenstein she wrote. Or, indeed, who wrote which entry in the shared journal that she kept with that young firebrand she ran off with. Fiona Sampson believes, I think, in what she calls evidence-based biography. So she looks hard at the evidence. But then she believes in adding a little bit of conjecture, even fantasy, wild surmise, guesswork, interpretation and opinion. I like her for that. It's done tactfully and respectfully. Her opinions are very interesting and plausible. And while I was imbibing them I started to form opinions of my own. You can read many things into some of Mary Shelley's letters. Her omissions, too, are suggestive. Her motives in many key moments of her life are open to question. It is not that she is duplicitous. Not at all. She is, I think, courageously open, principled and bold. But she is also very shy, very private, very modest. She shuns the limelight. She draws a veil over many things, even in her private journal. But she isn't afraid of anything and she throws herself into a passionate life with the man she loves and does right by him all the time that he is alive and all the long years following his death. I have the most devoted and indelible respect for Mary Shelley. I have always been fascinated by her, ever since, many years ago, I first opened a book of poems written by Percy Bysshe, edited by her. She writes captivating vignettes about their life together between those poems. You can tell she adored him and cherishes his memory. But she is also very sensitive, respectful and objective. This is very moving. She honours him by staying true to his intentions, in spite of the obvious pain it must give her, reading back many of those lines. But it is very hard, impossible, to discover what she was really thinking most of the time. Normally you can discover a writer's true spirit through her works. But I even wonder how much of her novels and stories were as heartfelt and sincere as they might have been had she not felt so bereft, felt so deserted, betrayed even, by her friends and family. Fiona Sampson's intense, slim volume, does much to illuminate some of the dark corners of Mary's life. But it is inviting rather than revelatory. She shines her torch and says, "Look, here is something fascinating ... " but she doesn't rummage or despoil. Go and read the letters. Read the journals and novels and vignettes. What do you make of it? Who was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, really? Was her literary life, "the last stuttering of the revolutionary spark that her mother Mary Wollstonecraft ignited?" I don't know. But I am grateful to Fiona Sampson for making me feel much wiser than I was 10 days ago.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Imi

    Oops. I've just noticed the next episode of this online has expired. I guess that makes this officially a DNF. I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 abridged audio version. I thought it would be interesting to at least vaguely listen to and learn a bit more about Mary Shelley's life, having recently re-read Frankenstein and with it being the 200 year anniversary of its publication. Honestly, it wasn't great and I think that's why I let it expire. I had listened to the first two 15min episodes (of 5), Oops. I've just noticed the next episode of this online has expired. I guess that makes this officially a DNF. I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 abridged audio version. I thought it would be interesting to at least vaguely listen to and learn a bit more about Mary Shelley's life, having recently re-read Frankenstein and with it being the 200 year anniversary of its publication. Honestly, it wasn't great and I think that's why I let it expire. I had listened to the first two 15min episodes (of 5), but was in no rush to continue. You'd be better off skimming Mary Shelley's Wikipedia page. It felt flat and dull, failing to capture my attention, and it just didn't have to be written that way. Yes, it's non fiction, a biography, but all of my favourite non fiction books are written fluidly and beautifully, and this is definitely important for the reader to get the most out of what they're learning. Indeed, I don't think I learned much anyway (not that I'm a Mary Shelley expert or anything!) and it felt more like a list of events. Worst of all, the audiobook narrator was terrible; she spoke in a way that sounded incredibly patronising and, for some reason, when reading out their letters etc., she decided to put on "voices" of people who had been really living. I could not understand that decision at all and it was awful. I found myself waiting for the "letter" or whatever it was to end so she'd stop with the voices. In conclusion, I think this audiobook edition was not up to BBC Radio 4's usual standards, but I also don't feel the source book is that great. I won't be reading it in full and cannot recommend it to others.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Penny

    4.5 It's a brave biographer who sets out her stall so openly, her object being - "to bring Mary closer to us, and closer again until she's hugely enlarged in close-up. I want to see the actual texture of her existence, caught in freeze-frame .......................... and about how it is for her". I hoped this wouldn't mean Sampson trying to answer unanswerable questions with the inevitable plethora of 'we can assume' or 'she might have'. Fortunately we don't get this! Instead we get a well researc 4.5 It's a brave biographer who sets out her stall so openly, her object being - "to bring Mary closer to us, and closer again until she's hugely enlarged in close-up. I want to see the actual texture of her existence, caught in freeze-frame .......................... and about how it is for her". I hoped this wouldn't mean Sampson trying to answer unanswerable questions with the inevitable plethora of 'we can assume' or 'she might have'. Fortunately we don't get this! Instead we get a well researched, well written biography that is fresh and exciting despite covering ground considerably written about already. The problem with any book about Mary's life is very simple. The first half of it was exciting and the second half was very dull. Nothing can ever change that. So, as Sampson readily acknowledges, Mary's life with Shelley up to her widowhood is going to take up far more literary space than the almost equal number of years she has after this. My only slight peeve with the book is Sampson's knack of jumping ahead a few weeks in the story, and then backfilling. It didn't irritate me too much as I was pretty much aware of 'what happens' but it could be annoying for someone who knows little or nothing about Mary's life.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Aimee

    The information about Mary Shelley was great, but I really struggled with the writing style. The present tense narration felt strange for a non-fiction book, and the author romanticises her subject rather than presenting an unbiased view. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, it's just that I was expecting a more impartial biography and this reads more like very well researched historical fiction, albeit without much of a story line. It does allow Sampson to explore Mary's thoughts and fe The information about Mary Shelley was great, but I really struggled with the writing style. The present tense narration felt strange for a non-fiction book, and the author romanticises her subject rather than presenting an unbiased view. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, it's just that I was expecting a more impartial biography and this reads more like very well researched historical fiction, albeit without much of a story line. It does allow Sampson to explore Mary's thoughts and feelings, which made the book a little less dry, but she jumps to conclusions based on the most spurious bits of evidence. For example, there's a chapter about Mary's early years that talks about what nursery songs she would have known based on the rhymes that were popular at the time. We have no way of knowing if Mary even knew of these rhymes (just because they were popular doesn't mean everyone had heard them) yet the author seems to think they were fundamental to building Mary's later character. Sampson also paints herself as an omnipotent narrator, able to tell us exactly what the infant Mary was scared of: Sometimes, like every child her age, she must be afraid of things she doesn't understand. (...) On winter nights, even in the nursery, the leaping shadows cast by the fire seem more substantial than the candlelight. Things get lost in their obscurity. Every night her papa disappears in the darkness of downstairs. Even her sister, whose breathing she can hear in the other cot, seems vast distances away. Now I agree that most children are scared of the dark, but it's a bit of a leap to say that Mary 'must be afraid' and to imagine how far away she felt from her father and sister. I'm not sure it adds anything to our understanding of Mary Shelley - after all, plenty of children have nightmares and don't go on to write widely-acclaimed horror stories. If you want a romanticised idea of Mary Shelley interspersed with details about her life then this book will suit you, but for pedants like me you'll get more hard facts from her Wikipedia page.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week: Mary Shelley was brought up by her father in a house filled with radical thinkers, poets, philosophers and writers of the day. Aged 16, she eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, embarking on a relationship that was lived on the move across Britain and Europe. She coped with debt, infidelity and the deaths of three children, before early widowhood changed her life forever. Most astonishingly, it was while still a teenager that she composed her novel Frankenstein, c From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week: Mary Shelley was brought up by her father in a house filled with radical thinkers, poets, philosophers and writers of the day. Aged 16, she eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, embarking on a relationship that was lived on the move across Britain and Europe. She coped with debt, infidelity and the deaths of three children, before early widowhood changed her life forever. Most astonishingly, it was while still a teenager that she composed her novel Frankenstein, creating two of our most enduring archetypes today. The life story is well-known. But who was the woman who lived it? Mary Shelley left plenty of evidence and, in this fascinating dialogue with the past, Fiona Sampson sifts through letters, diaries and records to find the real woman behind the story. She uncovers a complex, generous character - friend, intellectual, lover and mother - trying to fulfil her own passionate commitment to writing at a time when to be a woman writer was an extraordinary and costly anomaly. Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, this is a major new work of biography by a prize-winning writer and poet. Written by Fiona Sampson Read by Stella Gonet Abridged by Polly Coles Produced by Clive Brill A Brill production for BBC Radio 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09ly0qk Review at @NYTimes: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/03/bo...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Hore

    There's a real sense of urgent enquiry in this biography that makes it compelling to read. Fiona Sampson has to cross-question every piece of evidence about Mary's life, partly because early correspondence and juvenilia have been lost, partly because Mary herself could be reticent about her feelings, and partly because there has been so much obfuscation by others. She evokes well the young Mary's radical literary and philosophical family background as the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and Will There's a real sense of urgent enquiry in this biography that makes it compelling to read. Fiona Sampson has to cross-question every piece of evidence about Mary's life, partly because early correspondence and juvenilia have been lost, partly because Mary herself could be reticent about her feelings, and partly because there has been so much obfuscation by others. She evokes well the young Mary's radical literary and philosophical family background as the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, and the free-thinking, freestyle living of Percy Bysshe's circle in which Mary grows intellectually and creatively but suffers emotionally. The contrast with the staid convention of the squirearchy from which Percy has sprung is all too apparent, and it's fascinating how, after Percy's death, she has to suppress information about his beliefs and their life together in order to foster his reputation as a poet and because she and are young son are dependent on Percy's father for financial support. Above all one gains a vivid sense of what it was like to be an intellectual, a writer and a woman in the first half of the 19th century.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Pollock

    I read this new biography of Mary Shelley because my department is currently working on a museum exhibit intended to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the publication of FRANKENSTEIN. It's accessibly written and opens with a whole host of situational historical facts for perspective (like the fact that antibiotics were not a thing yet, so people just dropped dead of now-curable diseases all the time). I've long been an enthusiast of the Romantic poets which figure into Mary's life (Byron I read this new biography of Mary Shelley because my department is currently working on a museum exhibit intended to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the publication of FRANKENSTEIN. It's accessibly written and opens with a whole host of situational historical facts for perspective (like the fact that antibiotics were not a thing yet, so people just dropped dead of now-curable diseases all the time). I've long been an enthusiast of the Romantic poets which figure into Mary's life (Byron, Shelley), but boy, were they epic assholes at times. I came away from this wanting to posthumously smack Percy Bysshe, but ultimately begrudgingly respecting Byron for the way he treated Mary before he went off to Greece and premature death. Lots of icky facts (like Mary keeping a dessicated piece of Percy's heart in her desk drawer her whole life long), and OMFG am i glad to live in the days of modern medicine and birth control.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Russell Court

    This just wasn't for me. The story is a fascinating one. A young girl elopes with a married man and goes on to meet many of the names of her time. She travels Europe, frequently one step ahead of her creditors. She has children who sadly die. She proof reads for both Byron and Percy Shelley. And goes on to write one of the classic horror stories as well as many more books and articles. All in all it's a terrific story but I prefer my biographies to be far more linear. X happened and then Y. I fo This just wasn't for me. The story is a fascinating one. A young girl elopes with a married man and goes on to meet many of the names of her time. She travels Europe, frequently one step ahead of her creditors. She has children who sadly die. She proof reads for both Byron and Percy Shelley. And goes on to write one of the classic horror stories as well as many more books and articles. All in all it's a terrific story but I prefer my biographies to be far more linear. X happened and then Y. I found the author's habit of attributing motives to behaviours annoying because I prefer to decide for myself why Mary did something and unless there's a letter from herself to say why she did anything then I don't think we should guess. But that's personal opinion. The research behind the book is second to none and Fiona Sampson often gives insights into things happening in society at the time or explains why what today might seem a trivial act had huge meaning in the time of Mary Shelley. Fiona Sampson has whetted my appetite for more information about a remarkable lady.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: Saint of sadness Because her best-known book has become a cultural touchstone, and the outlines of its writing are already known, it is easy to turn Mary Shelley into a character in her own movie, or a paper saint. Sampson has resurrected the girl who wrote Frankenstein in this short and readable literary biography. The story behind the birth of Frankenstein is well known: an odd menage of the Romantic poets Byron and Shelley and their friends graduate from reading ghost stories on Review title: Saint of sadness Because her best-known book has become a cultural touchstone, and the outlines of its writing are already known, it is easy to turn Mary Shelley into a character in her own movie, or a paper saint. Sampson has resurrected the girl who wrote Frankenstein in this short and readable literary biography. The story behind the birth of Frankenstein is well known: an odd menage of the Romantic poets Byron and Shelley and their friends graduate from reading ghost stories on a dark and stormy night by Switzerland 's Lake Geneva to a writing challenge to create a better ghost story. Mary, then Shelley' s 18 year old lover and later the mother of his children, rises to the challenge and writes a lasting classic of scientific overreach, philosophical depth,and moral horror. Who was this teenager who exceeded her better known male peers? Born in 1797, Mary was the daughter of radical thinkers and writers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who died just days after her daughter's birth. When her beloved father married a woman with her own children, Mary became the classic put-upon step-child, and the 16-year-old and possibly pregnant Mary accepted the married Shelley's proposal to run away to Europe. Her life with Shelley would consist of short periods of shared literary and romantic ecstasy on top of a rocky foundation of financial, social, and relationship struggles. Sampson finds the Mary Shelley who perseveres at the center of it. Coming from a literary family and living in an intensely social literary community, her life was richly documented, but much of the most central documentation (all of the correspondence between Mary and her father, Mary's daily journals of some of the crucial years) has been lost or destroyed. So Sampson uses a broad range of primary and secondary sources to construct the life, and makes plausible speculations to shore up the weak sections. She makes Mary a three-dimensional character, giving her the literary credit she was sometimes denied by her male-dominated contemporary culture without glossing over the struggles (the death of three children very young, Shelley's series of infidelities and then death by drowning) that resulted in a life notable for its sadness.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    My ratings here seem contradictory. I would like to read a biography of Mary Shelley, but I'm not sure I want to read THIS one. The abridged audio was presented in 5, 15-minute segments on BBC, but it wasn't especially enjoyable. The language was very "intellectual", and paired with the reader whizzing through the text, I found it a little hard to follow. There was a lot of the author's perspective and theory... too much, I felt. It could be that there simply isn't a lot of detail about Shelley' My ratings here seem contradictory. I would like to read a biography of Mary Shelley, but I'm not sure I want to read THIS one. The abridged audio was presented in 5, 15-minute segments on BBC, but it wasn't especially enjoyable. The language was very "intellectual", and paired with the reader whizzing through the text, I found it a little hard to follow. There was a lot of the author's perspective and theory... too much, I felt. It could be that there simply isn't a lot of detail about Shelley's life and the pages had to be filled with something.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    ******************** *Frankenstein 3 stars *The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein 1 star *In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein TBR *Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley TBR *Mary Shelley TBR ******************** *Frankenstein 3 stars *The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein 1 star *In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein TBR *Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley TBR *Mary Shelley TBR

  18. 4 out of 5

    Yvonne

    Fiona Sampson takes a look at the woman who was the force behind one of literature’s classic books, Frankenstein is a title recognised around the world. It has been dissected and discussed numerous times, but what about its creator. Mary Shelley wrote this book at the age of 18, two years after her marriage to Percy Shelley, she was at the time considered to be an intellectual thinker. This is a time when women are seen as an object or a piece of the furniture, not to have opinions or views that Fiona Sampson takes a look at the woman who was the force behind one of literature’s classic books, Frankenstein is a title recognised around the world. It has been dissected and discussed numerous times, but what about its creator. Mary Shelley wrote this book at the age of 18, two years after her marriage to Percy Shelley, she was at the time considered to be an intellectual thinker. This is a time when women are seen as an object or a piece of the furniture, not to have opinions or views that are meaningful. Fiona has, I feel, done her research well using a number of documents, journals and letters to build up a picture of this young woman’s life. She has created an in-depth narrative that has an easy flow to it and makes for good reading, it is insightful and full of details. This is a wonderful read that would appeal to readers of biographies and memoirs of literary greats. It has the air of a well researched book, is well written and presented. My first time reading any work by this author, I may have to look at reading more. I received my copy for my honest and unbiased opinion via NetGalley and the publishers, my thanks to them for this opportunity.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    There's a lot of speculation in this biography..."We can assume that Mary..." and "Perhaps Mary felt..." which annoyed me. I like facts. However, it does describe how fascinating Mary is. She eloped with a married man at the age of 16, had four children in less than five years (only one survived), published Frankenstein at 21, and was widowed at 24. She was a survivor. The second half of the book, detailing her life with Percy, reads like a salacious exposé in a women's magazine. Percy was a rea There's a lot of speculation in this biography..."We can assume that Mary..." and "Perhaps Mary felt..." which annoyed me. I like facts. However, it does describe how fascinating Mary is. She eloped with a married man at the age of 16, had four children in less than five years (only one survived), published Frankenstein at 21, and was widowed at 24. She was a survivor. The second half of the book, detailing her life with Percy, reads like a salacious exposé in a women's magazine. Percy was a real dog.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Fox

    In Search of Mary Shelley is the first biography I've read of the author outside of brief sketches of her life in the forwards of the various editions of Frankenstein that I've read over the years. My Keats obsession has shown me bits of Shelley and Byron, of course, but Mary has tended to get glossed over by the larger personalities of the poets and writers she surrounded herself with. She's stuck in most minds as the teenaged author sharing a ghost story, and little more. It's a shame. I hop In Search of Mary Shelley is the first biography I've read of the author outside of brief sketches of her life in the forwards of the various editions of Frankenstein that I've read over the years. My Keats obsession has shown me bits of Shelley and Byron, of course, but Mary has tended to get glossed over by the larger personalities of the poets and writers she surrounded herself with. She's stuck in most minds as the teenaged author sharing a ghost story, and little more. It's a shame. I hope this anniversary celebration will help reignite interest in her, and the manifold mysteries of her well-governed life. This book was, at first, off-putting to me. There was too much inference and speculation for me to be truly comfortable reading about her early years, but the moment she met Shelley all of that changed. The speculation of her early life is also rather necessary, seeing how all of her earlier correspondence, writing, and basically proof of her existence has been destroyed by unknown (possibly her own) hands. When Percy Shelley came onto the scene things picked up, as the book became full of her own writing, letters written to her, poetry, etc. That's when her life, in many ways, truly began, and oh lord was it an interesting one. What struck me most in this book, and indeed in the story of the Romantics in general, is how little life and human personalities have changed over time. Percy, as he truly was and not whitewashed, was such an utter dog of a person, and yet Mary fell for him. How many times have we watched our friends match badly, impulsively, in their youth? How many times have we regretted our own relationships? Yet Mary was canny enough to whitewash his image, to forgive him her sins and make the most out of her life and his legacy after that ill-fated boat trip. This is a great introduction to Mary Shelley's life, and certainly makes me want to learn more about her. It is rife with adding context to the choices she made and illustrating the truth of things - rather than painting her as solely a political feminist force or the shrinking violet/cold wife too many Percy Bysshe apologists have made her out to be.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Betsy

    This biography focuses on Mary Shelley’s early life, with only one chapter describing the almost 30 years of her life after her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley died. It describes her birth and parentage, her elopement at age 16, the circumstances that led to Frankenstein, and the vicissitudes of her married life. Each chapter begins with a quote from Frankenstein, and throughout the book, Sampson makes connections between Mary Shelley’s experiences to her great novel. The biography is fascinating a This biography focuses on Mary Shelley’s early life, with only one chapter describing the almost 30 years of her life after her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley died. It describes her birth and parentage, her elopement at age 16, the circumstances that led to Frankenstein, and the vicissitudes of her married life. Each chapter begins with a quote from Frankenstein, and throughout the book, Sampson makes connections between Mary Shelley’s experiences to her great novel. The biography is fascinating and quite readable. The term “chiaroscuro” was a bit overused, and the author was dramatic in her conclusions in a couple of the early chapters. Most of all, though, I am struck by Mary Shelley’s tumultuous and sad life and have come away with a strong dislike of her husband. Beginning with her mother’s death from puerperal fever only days after her birth, Mary Shelley experienced many losses. Mary’s father did not support her consistently, and her stepmother was problematic, too, sometimes favoring her own children over Mary. Mary conceived five children, but only one survived to adulthood. Her husband died at age 29 after a storm capsized his boat. Percy Bysshe Shelley was inconstant, believing in “free love” and practicing what he believed, even pressuring Mary to participate. His wandering eye and heart led to much uncertainty for Mary, even from the beginning: they eloped with Mary’s stepsister. And Percy’s derogatory comments about Mary even colored their friends’ perception and treatment of her after his death. I found it compelling to read this biography right after reading Frankenstein for the first time.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Saturday's Child

    The writing style (not the subject) made this one a read that I did not enjoy as much as I thought I would.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    3.5 stars I would like to thank netgalley and Profile Books for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. An interesting look into Mary Shelley's life. I learned so many things I didn't know about her, but the back and fourthness of the writing made it a little hard to understand and follow at times. 3.5 stars I would like to thank netgalley and Profile Books for a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. An interesting look into Mary Shelley's life. I learned so many things I didn't know about her, but the back and fourthness of the writing made it a little hard to understand and follow at times.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lena

    Sampson leads the reader through Mary's life with chosen letter and dairy entries. She points out what historians can and cannot interpret into them. The books rounds up very well and lights up many different aspects of Mary's early adulthood. Sadly I started disliking the Shelly circle and found them more and more annoying as their story continued. Sampson leads the reader through Mary's life with chosen letter and dairy entries. She points out what historians can and cannot interpret into them. The books rounds up very well and lights up many different aspects of Mary's early adulthood. Sadly I started disliking the Shelly circle and found them more and more annoying as their story continued.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Siobhan

    In Search of Mary Shelley is a new biography of the author in time for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein. It aims to look for the person behind the famous novel and her famous poet husband and writer parents (the latter being Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, for those who don’t know much about her life). Of course, other biographies do that too, but Sampson’s is a concise and approachable book that suits a wide audience and those wanting to dip into the writer’s lif In Search of Mary Shelley is a new biography of the author in time for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein. It aims to look for the person behind the famous novel and her famous poet husband and writer parents (the latter being Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, for those who don’t know much about her life). Of course, other biographies do that too, but Sampson’s is a concise and approachable book that suits a wide audience and those wanting to dip into the writer’s life for her most well-known creation’s anniversary. The introduction talks about the difference between the prevalent cultural image of Frankenstein—a science fiction horror story with a futuristic vibe and a huge green monster—and the reality of the novel and its connections to the past, to Romanticism, and to thinking of Mary Shelley’s time. It also counterpoints her reputation as the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley that lasted for a long time, pointing out the time it took for more critical discussion of her. Beyond this opening, it is a fairly straightforward account of Mary Shelley’s life, though each chapter tends to start with a time jump and then backtrack to fill in the detail, possibly to keep more casual readers engaged. It is punchy and balances not being bogged down with explaining who all the key figures are, whilst using a fairly informal tone to keep it readable. As with all Mary Shelley biographies, the author has to make some implicit value judgements about key figures, particularly Percy, though it is unlikely even his fans will argue with some of his faults given by Sampson. She paints Mary as a varied and interesting woman and, though self-consciously speeds up after Percy’s death, doesn’t discount all the years of writing after Percy’s death. The main downside to the biography is also its selling point to some readers: it covers all the major events and characters, but is not hugely detailed. It doesn’t, for example, quote letters and journals as much as other literary biographies; this makes it far more accessible to a casual reader, but lacks some of the colour and interesting snippets that can be found in other books. This can be made up for, however, by supplementing with existing books such as Charlotte Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws (on both Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft and, as such, a very large book) or Daisy Hay’s short and also readable Young Romantics. Sampson’s biography of Mary Shelley is perfect for those who know far more about Frankenstein (or think they do!) than its author, or perhaps for people who want to know more about the female writers who are so often misrepresented even in the modern day in simplistic or even offensive ways. It is a chance for people to look past the image of an eighteen-year-old magically conjuring a sci-fi novel out of nowhere and then solely being a poet’s wife, and see past these myths and misrepresentations to understand the intellectual, political, and social world in which Mary Shelley and Frankenstein came from.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Notes of a Curious Mind

    When she was 15 years old, Mary became acquainted with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a fiercely political radical poet, who regarded all forms of authority, including religion, as wicked and disapproved of marriage, even though he was already married, because of the rights it denied to women. Shelley, a great admirer of Godwin, became a frequent visitor in Skinner Street, and he and Mary fell in love. And so it begins Mary’s Shelley remarkable life. The couple, Mary still in her sixteenth year, eloped t When she was 15 years old, Mary became acquainted with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a fiercely political radical poet, who regarded all forms of authority, including religion, as wicked and disapproved of marriage, even though he was already married, because of the rights it denied to women. Shelley, a great admirer of Godwin, became a frequent visitor in Skinner Street, and he and Mary fell in love. And so it begins Mary’s Shelley remarkable life. The couple, Mary still in her sixteenth year, eloped to Europe accompanied by Mary’s step-sister Claire, who lived with them throughout most of their marriage in a bizarre relationship that has baffled historians for decades. In her book, In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein, Fiona Sampson, herself a poet and editor of Percy Shelley’s poetry, set out to recover the anorthodox life of the incredibly celebrated author of Frankenstein. The story of Frankenstein is fascinating, not only because Mary wrote it when she was just 19 years old, but also because of she invented an archetype, the genius, mad scientist that does not think about the consequences of his work, and he lives to see the consequences. Fiona Sampson revisites Mary Shelley’s life and explores the many dimensions of her life. Her childhood, how she coped with the infidelity of her husband and the death of her children. How was she as a person and how it was growing up in an intellectual and radical environment and meet the revolutionary thinkers and poets of her time. It is a fascinating and engaging biography of an exceptional woman that went against the constraints of conventional life.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Naomi Barnes

    I found this book both frustrating and fascinating. It is written in a style increasingly popular with academic historians where gaps are filled with the researcher's imagination. It is a clunky style and acquired taste. This type of history will only become easier to read as authors experiment. I found there were some nuggets of gold amongst the dense narration which is why I gave this book 3 stars rather than 2. They are well worth finding. I did wonder how much the author was influenced in he I found this book both frustrating and fascinating. It is written in a style increasingly popular with academic historians where gaps are filled with the researcher's imagination. It is a clunky style and acquired taste. This type of history will only become easier to read as authors experiment. I found there were some nuggets of gold amongst the dense narration which is why I gave this book 3 stars rather than 2. They are well worth finding. I did wonder how much the author was influenced in her imaginative links by populism around the Mary Shelley story. I was disappointed that there was little new interpretation to add despite historical documentation which could have suggested an alternative telling. To be honest, I was surprised at the large amount of primary sources on Mary Shelley. Absolutely recommend for Frankenstein buffs but not really great for newbies to the philosopher novelist.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Anouska

    I enjoyed this biography immensely, it’s beautifully written, well researched, and tangibly evokes the lives of those it considers. But I’m not quite sure that Sampson achieves what she claims she will in her introduction. I think the problem is that this portrait feels so curated, with such imaginative painting of scenes, sections of life removed and glossed over, that it does not feel authentic. That's not to say this is not a valuable work, but the result is more evocative than it is informati I enjoyed this biography immensely, it’s beautifully written, well researched, and tangibly evokes the lives of those it considers. But I’m not quite sure that Sampson achieves what she claims she will in her introduction. I think the problem is that this portrait feels so curated, with such imaginative painting of scenes, sections of life removed and glossed over, that it does not feel authentic. That's not to say this is not a valuable work, but the result is more evocative than it is informative. This isn't the biography I expected, but Sampson doesn't apologise for this being more a creative exercise than an academic one. I can't help but admire its brilliance. Full review available here: https://infinitetypewriters.wordpress...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gabriela Pop

    Though I have had some minor issues with the writing style itself and some choices in terms of pacing and whatnot,overall I found this to be one of the superior biographies I have read. I may be slightly biased as I have for the longest time had quite a strange affinity towards Mary Shelley, so I was from the get go more than enthusiastic about this,but I do believe this would've made a pleasant read regardless of that. I always hate when nonfiction and biographies in particular have a distanced Though I have had some minor issues with the writing style itself and some choices in terms of pacing and whatnot,overall I found this to be one of the superior biographies I have read. I may be slightly biased as I have for the longest time had quite a strange affinity towards Mary Shelley, so I was from the get go more than enthusiastic about this,but I do believe this would've made a pleasant read regardless of that. I always hate when nonfiction and biographies in particular have a distanced, almost clinical feel to them,but that was certainly not the case for this particular one. There is something that feels very tender and personal in the way the author gets invested in Mary's story itself, as well as retelling her story to the the best of her ability to the reader. 10/10 would recommend to anyone interested in nonfiction or Mary Shelley in particular!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kris - My Novelesque Life

    RATING: 3 STARS (Review Not on Blog) I first read Frankenstein in a college Romance Period English course. It was not a book I really looked forward to reading, but I am so happy I did. This novel is more than the parodies and movies out there. (The show Penny Dreadful does a good job with Victor and the Creature). Then I found out that she was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft who also made an impact on me during my college days. I have been wanting to read biographies on them and so when Roman RATING: 3 STARS (Review Not on Blog) I first read Frankenstein in a college Romance Period English course. It was not a book I really looked forward to reading, but I am so happy I did. This novel is more than the parodies and movies out there. (The show Penny Dreadful does a good job with Victor and the Creature). Then I found out that she was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft who also made an impact on me during my college days. I have been wanting to read biographies on them and so when Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley came out I jumped on it. It was a brilliant biography that was well researched and also told a good story. I was excited to read this biography based solely on Shelley. While it was well-researched I found the book a bit dry. It was written more like a textbook. And, maybe had I not read this second I would have liked it a bit more.

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