The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein

The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein

The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein

The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein

Synopsis

Although Frankenstein is now widely taught in classes on Romanticism, little attention has been paid to the considerable corpus of Mary Shelley's other works. Indeed the excitement of the last decade at feminist approaches to Frankenstein has ironically obscured the persona of its author. This collection of essays, written by a preeminent group of Romantic scholars, sketches a portrait of the "other Mary Shelley": the writer and intellectual who recognized the turbulent interplay among issues of family, gender, and society, and whose writings resonate strongly in the setting of contemporary politics, culture, and feminism. By analyzing a previously neglected body of novels, novellas, reviews, travel writing, essays, letters, biographies, and tales, and by emphasizing Mary Shelley's shrewd assessment of Romanticism, the essays in this volume offer a ground-breaking evaluation of one of the foremost cultural critics of the nineteenth century.

Excerpt

Mary Favret

He died, and the world showed no outward sign. . . . He died, and his place . . . has never been filled up.

Mary Shelley, Preface to The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Any objective method, duly verified, belies the initial contact with the object. It must first scrutinize everything. . . . Objective thought does not gaze in wonderment; it must be ironic. . . . [Whereas] in the examination of men, equals, or brothers, sympathy is the basis of method.

Gaston Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Revery

In 1838, Mary Shelley wrote to publisher Edward Moxon to arrange payment and negotiate copy rights for the forthcoming edition ofPercy Shelley's Poetical Works. Her letter emphasizes the difficult task of editing and her crucial involvement in the production. Indeed, Mary Shelley had taken on a formidable project. Not only does she piece together and transcribe Percy's poetry, which she calls, elsewhere, "so confused a mass, interlined and broken into fragments," that "the wonder would be how any eyes or patience were capable of extracting [a volume]" from these scattered remains. This chore she had begun earlier, with the rather flawed collection of Percy's Posthumous Poems (1824). But the 1839 edition is considerably more ambitious. In addition to the poems themselves, Mary Shelley presents nearly fifty pages of commentary upon the poems, in many cases providing the first published critical assessment of Percy's works. Most significantly, she "animates" this body of work. The woman who wrote Frankenstein now constructs a life that holds together these scattered pieces; these "component parts [are] . . . endued with vital warmth." She circumvents Sir Timothy Shelley's prohibiton against a biography of his son by inserting instead "the history of those productions, as they sprang, living and warm, from [the poet's] heart and brain" (Notes, iii). She gives the poems a story.

The ability to combine these roles -- of editor, transcriber, critic, and biographer -- belongs uniquely to herself, Mary Shelley argues to Moxon. By virtue of her exclusive relationship with the subject, more than by any objective methodology, she deserves credit:

The M. S. from which it was printed consisted of fragments of paper, which, in the hands of an indifferent person, would never have been decyphered -- the labour of putting it together was immense -- the papers were in my . . .

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