It was a dark and stormy night on the shores of Lake Geneva, 1816. You’ve heard the story before; Lord Byron challenges his friends to see who can come up with the best ghost story. Among the people include Percy Bysshe Shelley, his lover Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Mary’s stepsister Claire Claremont and Byron’s physician, John William Polidori. Two novels were born that very night; Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s (née Godwin) Frankenstein and John William Polidori’s The Vampyre. The evening begat a curse, too. Within a few years of Frankenstein’s publication, nearly all of those involved met untimely deaths.
First of all I want to point out that authors of this book Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler don’t actually believe this was a curse. Well at least I hope they don’t, this is a little gimmick to help sell the book and I think they just wanted to explore the interesting fact that they did all die young. This book is purely a biography on Mary Shelley that focuses on the night in 1816 and the novel Frankenstein. I was hoping for something about struggling to write something as great as Frankenstein or how the novel has been destroyed by pop culture.
The book starts out with the life of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, the famous philosopher and feminist parents of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The two had very different personalities and they seemed like a very odd couple but I think they really complemented each other. Sure, they had their problems but nothing like their daughter.
This brings us to the bulk of the book, Mary Shelley and the young romantics. These were the original rock stars and their lives, no soap opera will ever come close to the drama and complexity as the real lives of the romantics. I picked up this book to learn about these poets after reading A Treacherous Likeness and I wanted to know more about them. This was a very accessible biography, which focuses primarily on Mary Shelley but it gives you a great insight into her life. I don’t pretend to fully understand the Romantics, they are way to complex but I feel I have a better knowledge into their lives.
My interest in the Romantics has gotten stronger thanks to The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. I have a few other books I plan to finish off in on the topic and I doubt I’ll stop there. I love the quotes and the referencing in this biography; I’ve often found that I wonder about the source of information in biographies that don’t reference so it was so handy to have that reference.
While this book does primary focus on Mary, it was nice to learn a little more of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Claire Claremont and John William Polidori. I didn’t previously know the story of the original publication of The Vampyre; I found it fascinating and heart breaking for John William Polidori. It is always great to find new stories about these amazing talented people.
One thing I liked about this biography, especially after reading A Treacherous Likeness, is the fact that it didn’t try to sway the reader’s opinions; it stuck to facts and left it to the readers to make up their own mind. This was a refreshing change from the opinionated A Treacherous Likeness and I really enjoyed the experience of learning more about these poets. I’m sure there are better biographies on Mary Shelley out there but The Monsters is worth checking out as well.