A Life with Mary Shelley

A Life with Mary Shelley

A Life with Mary Shelley

A Life with Mary Shelley


In 1980, deconstructive and psychoanalytic literary theorist Barbara Johnson wrote an essay on Mary Shelley for a colloquium on the writings of Jacques Derrida. The essay marked the beginning of Johnson's lifelong interest in Shelley as well as her first foray into the field of "women's studies," one of whose commitments was the rediscovery and analysis of works by women writers previously excluded from the academic canon. Indeed, the last book Johnson completed before her death was Mary Shelley and Her Circle, published here for the first time. Shelley was thus the subject for Johnson's beginning in feminist criticism and also for her end.

It is surprising to recall that when Johnson wrote her essay, only two of Shelley's novels were in print, critics and scholars having mostly dismissed her writing as inferior and her career as a side effect of her famous husband's. Inspired by groundbreaking feminist scholarship of the seventies, Johnson came to pen yet more essays on Shelley over the course of a brilliant but tragically foreshortened career. So much of what we know and think about Mary Shelley today is due to her and a handful of scholars working just decades ago.

In this volume, Judith Butler and Shoshana Felman have united all of Johnson's published and unpublished work on Shelley alongside their own new, insightful pieces of criticism and those of two other peers and fellow pioneers in feminist theory, Mary Wilson Carpenter and Cathy Caruth. The book thus evolves as a conversation amongst key scholars of shared intellectual inclinations while closing the circle on Johnson's life and her own fascination with the life and circle of another woman writer, who, of course, also happened to be the daughter of a founder of modern feminism.


Cathy Caruth

As the title of this book suggests, Barbara Johnson: A Life with Mary Shelley offers, in a single collection, Barbara Johnson’s influential and pathbreaking essays on the Romantic writer Mary Shelley written over the course of Johnson’s lifetime. These essays provide essential insights into the work, and the life, of Mary Shelley, and more specifically, into the entanglement of Mary Shelley’s life and writing. The original and daring works collected in this volume also sketch out a trajectory from the beginning to the end of Barbara Johnson’s own brilliant career, and offer a glimpse of the inextricability of this career—of its far-reaching literary critical, theoretical, and feminist innovations—from the writing, and (theorized) life, of Mary Shelley.

Prefaced by a lucid description of Johnson’s critical and theoretical development written by Mary Wilson Carpenter, a scholar of nineteenthcentury British women’s writing, the book consists of two parts, each involving essays by Barbara Johnson about Mary Shelley as well as critical interpretations of Barbara Johnson’s writing by a major philosophical or literary theorist. In Part One, Johnson’s early essays on Mary Shelley (or inspired by the image of Mary Shelley’s monster) are followed by a critical commentary offered by the leading feminist philosopher Judith Butler. In Part Two, Johnson’s last book, Mary Shelley and Her Circle—written during her final illness and finished just weeks before she died—is followed by a critical commentary written by the eminent literary critic and theorist Shoshana Felman. We thus come to understand Johnson’s vision of the intricate relation between Mary Shelley’s life and writing by discovering the ways in which Johnson’s work is, in its turn, bound up with her . . .

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