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Teaching Romanticism XIX: Mary Shelley’s Other Works

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As part of this ongoing series on Teaching Romanticism we will consider the ways in which we lecture on and discuss individual authors, whether during author-specific modules or broader period surveys. I thought it would be particularly useful to hear about which texts educators use and in what context, whether they place certain poems or prose works against those of other writers, or use contemporary or modern theoretical texts, or something else entirely. For this strand of blog posts I invite academics across the world to share their advice and tips on any aspect that interests them about teaching Romanticism. Many thanks to all of those who answered my call through NASSR-L, the BARS Review and elsewhere (lightly edited samples are reproduced below with permission of the authors). Please do feel free to contact me with proposals for future subjects. We will be considering a range of writers, canonical and non-canonical alike, in the coming months. This issue was edited by Catherine Redford.


Lisa Vargo (University of Saskatchewan): Teaching Lodore

Shelley-3A practical advantage of teaching Lodore (1835) is its availability via online editions (Project Gutenberg and Internet Archive), in an inexpensive print edition from Broadview Press, and with Fiona Stafford’s scholarly edition for Pickering and Chatto. The relatively modest critical attention the novel has received nevertheless might inspire a number of fruitful approaches for teaching, the most obvious being domesticity, marriage, and mother-daughter and father-daughter relations (Bunnell, Hopkins and Jowell). Other matters include Lodore as a queer text (Gonda), the setting in America (Garrett), Lodore’s death in a duel, Lodore as a Byronic hero, and themes of money, sacrifice and gift (Allen), and women’s education, which offer additional rich possibilities. Richard Cronin’s perceptive argument that Lodore is a work of hybrid fiction points to further potential to teach the novel with what might seem unexpected bedfellows and largely shapes the thoughts here offered.

The dual plots of the marriages of a mother and daughter invite comparisons with other texts concerning domesticity and marriage. A salient question is whether the novel’s heroine Ethel Villiers represents a conventional view (thus anticipating the Victorian ‘Angel in the House’) or whether the text subversively contests her position. Nicholas Williams takes Cronin’s hint about hybridity and offers a reading with a nuanced middle ground of a mixed representation. One obvious coupling Williams points to is Jane Austen’s somewhat ironic views of marital bliss. In reading these authors students will want to consider the narrative voice in the works. As critics like Elizabeth Langland and Mary Poovey have pointed out, domesticity is a complex topic and Lodore might open up discussion about the pressures for women to conform to an ideal in the face of less than ideal realities.

A variation on the more familiar plot of ‘Reader, I married him’ informed the occasion that I have had to teach the novel – in an undergraduate seminar on the theme of ‘Odd Women’, or women who live outside of marriage. The course began with Millennium Hall, ended with Gissing and along the way included Adeline Mowbray, Cranford and Charlotte Yonge’s The Clever Woman of the Family. In this reading Ethel’s friend Fanny Derham comes to the forefront—the fact that she is the focus of the novel’s conclusion is significant. Lodore’s reviewers noted that Lodore’s rather comically conceived unmarried sister Elizabeth is one of the most enjoyable features of the novel; both figures are viewed as counters to the marriage plot who are complete in themselves.

Further to these debates about marriage and domesticity, Richard Cronin’s focus on Shelley’s intended subtitle, ‘A Tale of the Present Time’, leads him to conclude that the novel is a mixture of the sentimental and the ‘styptic’. Cronin calls attention to Shelley’s friendship with Edward Bulwer as well as how her novel responds to popular tastes of the time.  Like Bulwer she is indebted to what Pamela Clemit terms the Godwinian novel, while Lodore’s concern with social and economic pressures anticipate the writings of George Eliot. Following Cronin, one might further contemplate the significance of a tale of the present. The 1830s is the decade of the First Reform Bill, of the abolition of slavery, of revolution on the continent and the rise of Chartism.  The social problem novel developed out of these events; Lodore predates Oliver Twist by two years.

Other intriguing combinations of tales of the present might be explored with Lodore. Money is a preoccupation of Silver Fork fiction, including Catherine Gore’s Pin Money where consumerism plays an important role, but economic matters takes many forms as Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, Dickens’s Bleak House and Great Expectations and Gissing’s New Grub Street demonstrate. A number of works overlap with Lodore’s discussion of Ethel’s ‘sexual education’ (in contrast with that of Fanny Derham) and invites consideration with writings of Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft, and works like Tennyson’s The Princess.

Lodore will likely remain a minor work, but it is one well worth exploring as it shares with Frankenstein a multitude of themes that invite a number of directions. Apart from its own considerable merits and readability, it enables bringing together canonical and less canonical writings for study and discussion.

Works Cited

  •  Allen, Graham. ‘The Gift and the Return: Deconstructing Mary Shelley’s Lodore’. Derrida Today 4.1 (2011): 44–58.
  •  Bunnell, Charlene E. ‘The Illusion of “Great Expectations”: Manners and Morals In Mary Shelley’s Lodore and Falkner’. Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after Frankenstein: Essays in Honor of the Bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s Birth. 275–291. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1997.
  •  Cronin, Richard. ‘Mary Shelley and Edward Bulwer: Lodore As Hybrid Fiction’. Mary Shelley’s Fictions: From Frankenstein to Falkner. 39-54. Basingstoke andNew York: Macmillan; St. Martin’s, 2000.
  •  Garrett, Erin Webster. ‘White Papers and Black Figures: Mary Shelley Writing America’. Mary Shelley: Her Circle and Her Contemporaries. 185-202. Newcastle-upon0Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2010.
  •  Gonda, Caroline. ‘Lodore and Fanny Derham’s Story’. Women’s Writing 6.3 (1999): 329–344.
  •  Hopkins, Lisa. ‘“A Medea, in More Senses Than the More Obvious One”: Motherhood in Mary Shelley’s Lodore and Falkner’. Eighteenth-Century Novel 2 (2002): 383–405.
  •  Jowell, Sharon L. ‘Mary Shelley’s Mothers: The Weak, the Absent, and the Silent In Lodore and Falkner’. European Romantic Review 8.3 (1997): 298–322.
  •  Shelley, Mary.  Lodore. Ed. Fiona Stafford. The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley : Volume 6 ed. Nora Crook with Pamela Clemit. London: Pickering & Chatto, 1996.
  •  ———. Lodore. Ed. Lisa Vargo.  Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1997.
  •  Stafford, Fiona. ‘Lodore: A Tale of the Present Time?’. Mary Shelley’s Fictions: From Frankenstein to Falkner. 181-193. Basingstoke and New York: Macmillan; St. Martin’s, 2000.
  •  Vargo, Lisa. ‘Lodore and the “Novel Of Society”’. Women’s Writing 6.3 (1999): 425–440.
  •  Williams, Cynthia S. ‘Transatlantic Loops and Urban Anonymity in Mary Shelley’s Lodore’. Urban Identity and the Atlantic World. 159–173. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
  •  Williams, Nicholas M. ‘Angelic Realism: Domestic Idealization In Mary Shelley’s Lodore’. Studies In The Novel 39.4 (2007): 397–415.

Ranita Chatterjee (California State University Northridge): Teaching The Last Man

Shelley-4Despite its complex narrative structure and rich biographical and historical references, lately I have been teaching Mary Shelley’s third novel, The Last Man (1826), instead of her first and best known novel Frankenstein. I have made this substitution in both my undergraduate and graduate classes. In our department’s upper-division undergraduate survey of the Romantic Age that requires coverage of the big six Romantic poets, I find that framing the course with the 1790s pamphlet wars and Shelley’s The Last Man provides students with a solid understanding of the revolutionary impact of the era along with the period’s crucial experimentation with form and voice. Indeed, our diverse and predominantly first generation college students tend to relate more to the poor, orphaned and initially uneducated Lionel Verney and his transformation through Adrian’s tutelage than to the wealthy, entitled and arrogant Victor Frankenstein. Having read two entire collections of poetry by the time we get to Shelley’s novel—Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794) and Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s The Lyrical Ballads (1798)—students are quick to identify Lionel Verney with both the Wordsworthian egotistical sublime, and the Blakean speaker. For from his entry into civilized society to the destruction of all humankind except himself, Verney’s autobiographical-historical account of the end of the world seems to follow the Blakean trajectory of progressing from innocence through experience to an organized innocence. And students interpret Verney’s various memories of his beloved tribe as Wordsworthian spots of time. Moreover, our twenty-first century students are more curious about a prophetic natural disaster that occurs during their own century. Perhaps because of their growing sense of environmental and social justice, they seem more invested in a plague narrative than in a science experiment gone awry.

In the undergraduate course, then, we explore Shelley’s third novel as a history of power and loss. By the end of Volume One in The Last Man, once we have mapped out the complicated gender and class dynamics of the two brother and sister pairs (Lionel and Perdita Verney, and Adrian and Idris), and their connections to Raymond and Evadne, students are more capable of discussing the power dimensions of governing one’s self, family, nation or the planet in a way that the claustrophobic focus on Victor and his Creature takes longer to tease out. What follows this discussion is a careful analysis of the plague’s destructive path beginning with the circumstances around the narrative’s first mention of the word ‘plague’ namely, the Byronic hero Raymond leading the charge for Greek Independence against the Turks with, unbeknownst to him, both Evadne disguised as a soldier in his army, and Perdita on her way to finding him. We also explore two curious incidents where characters apparently recover their vitality and vigour despite the deadly and pervasive plague: Adrian’s blossoming of health upon finding his purpose as the new Lord Protectorate after Ryland abandons this post, and Lionel’s now well-discussed encounter with one of London’s most abject inhabitants. Students marvel at how and why despite his physical interaction with a plague victim, Lionel not only survives but also does so with renewed strength and exuberance. At this point in Volume Three, students also note how this feminized Plague, addressed as ‘Queen of the World’ (Shelley 252), has produced a Godwinian egalitarian society where, as Lionel states, ‘We were all equal now, but near at hand was an equality still more leveling, a state where […] the grave yawned beneath us all, and its prospects prevented any of us from enjoying the ease and plenty which in so awful a manner was presented to us’ (231).

We spend some focused class discussions on the last two chapters of the novel and the earlier ‘Author’s Introduction’ that students often misread as Shelley’s own historical account, not unlike her 1831 ‘Introduction’ to Frankenstein. Since so many undergraduates are familiar with Plato’s cave allegory from their mandatory literary theory survey, we are able to productively explore the image of the Sibyl’s Cave from the genderless ‘Author’s Introduction’ to the remaining three survivors after the plague has been apparently eradicated. Admittedly, students find Adrian and Clara’s sudden drowning rather contrived. However, Lionel’s final solitude helps students to refocus on the reasons for his own writing. Not unlike the Keatsian ‘Sylvan historian’ from ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, Lionel desires to ‘leave a monument of the existence of Verney, the Last Man’ (339). This prompts a wide-ranging discussion of other last man tales of the Romantic period and of our time as well as reflections on the power of the imagination in the act of writing. We can then relate this back to the function of prophecies and the collection of translated Sibylline leaves that comprise the story with which we are presented. As Victor’s tale of monstrous creation is in a letter to his sister, students now acknowledge the precarious embedded status of Lionel’s history of the final days of humankind.

In my graduate class, we discuss similar issues but with the salient scholarship (notably from Bewell, Carlson, Mellor, Johnson, Fisch and Lew) and relevant literary theories (from Derrida, Foucault, Althusser, Kristeva, Fuss, Butler, Halberstam, and Agamben). Derridean deconstruction is a useful way to understand the instability both of the narrative voice of Lionel Verney and the text he produces. The class is also able to interpret all the intrusions to his story that draws Lionel back to his present solipsism. Because we usually read Godwin’s Caleb Williams (1794) earlier in this course, students also reflect on Lionel’s crafting of his materials to present the best possible history. Foucault’s concept of discourse and Althusser’s ISAs (ideological state apparatus) help students unravel the ways in which the Plague functions like a discursive institution requiring her Foucauldian ‘docile bodies’. This leads to a provocative discussion of Kristevan abjection in Shelley’s novel, with both the Plague as monstrous abject and Lionel’s tale as necessary abject for his survival. Diana Fuss’ explorations of reading ‘like a feminist’, along with Butler’s concept of gender performativity, enable students to wrestle with the four embedded narrative voices (Shelley, Author, Sibyl, Verney). And Halberstam’s female masculinity produces many provocative discussions, not only of Evadne but also of Adrian. This brings us to a rich discussion of why Adrian and Lionel are the two last men who open and almost close the tale. Through Agamben’s concept of the dialectical relationship between two social positions (the sovereign and the abjected homo sacer) that constitute the laws of society and only exist through and for the laws (being both above and beyond the laws), we are able to recognize the way Adrian and Lionel always occupy one of these two roles throughout the story. Only when Adrian has died and, moreover, no longer peoples Lionel’s imagination, does Lionel acknowledge his complete exclusion from society and regard himself as a ‘monstrous excrescence of nature’ (340). While all my students conclude their explorations of The Last Man with the recognition of the destabilized structure of the novel, only my graduate students with their assorted contemporary theories can discern the extent to which Mary Shelley’s magnificently prophetic text defamiliarized both the last man tales of her era, and the genre of the historical novel. For my undergraduates, I prefer to use Hugh Luke’s edition because of Anne Mellor’s comprehensive introduction, and for graduate students I tend to recommend the Broadview edition of The Last Man for its excellent additional materials.

Works Cited

  •  Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1998. Print.
  •  Bewell, Alan. Romanticism and Colonial Disease. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins UP, Print.
  •  Carlson, Julie A. England’s First Family of Writers: Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelley. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2007. Print.
  •  Fisch, Audrey A. “Plaguing Politics: AIDS, Deconstruction, and The Last Man.” The Other Mary   Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein. Ed. Audrey A. Fisch, Anne Kostelanetz Mellor and Esther H. Schor. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. 267–286. Print.
  •  Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Volume I: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley.  New York: Vintage, 1978. Print.
  •  Fuss, Diana. Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature, and Difference.  New York: Routledge, 1989.
  •  Johnson, Barbara. “The Last Man.” The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein. Ed. Audrey A. Fisch, Anne Kostelanetz Mellor and Esther H. Schor. New York: Oxford UP, 1993. 258–266. Print.
  •  Lew, Joseph W. “The Plague of Imperial Desire: Montesquieu, Gibbon, Brougham, and Mary Shelley’s The Last Man.” Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire, 1780-1830. Ed. Tim Fulford and Peter J. Kitson. New York: Cambridge UP, 1998. 261–278. Print.
  •  Mellor, Anne K. Introduction. The Last Man. Ed. Hugh J. Luke, Jr. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1993. Print.
  •  Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. The Last Man. Ed. Hugh J. Luke, Jr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965. Print.
  •  ———.  The Last Man. Ed. Anne McWhir.  Peterborough: Broadview, 1996. Print.

Adam Mekler (Morgan State University): Teaching Mathilda and Valperga

When I first meet with my upper-level English majors in my course on the Shelley-Godwin circle, I assume they will be relatively familiar with Mary Shelley’s first novel. Of course, it is rather difficult to avoid some familiarity with Frankenstein, whether as a book or as a movie. Some of them may also have heard of The Last Man, which seems to be her second most popular novel among instructors. These two novels act as useful bookends to an examination of that part of Shelley’s career during which her relationships with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, in particular, were more immediately influential. Of course, such a focus, especially as it has traditionally involved an over-reliance on biography and often subordinates Mary Shelley to her two male contemporaries, has more recently become less popular. Nevertheless, as part of a more comprehensive examination of her works I believe biographical considerations form an important component to the study of Mary Shelley.

To that end, I find particularly rewarding the assignment of the two major works Shelley produced after first ‘enrol[ling her]self on the page of fame’ and before finding herself ‘the last relic of a beloved race’. At the same time, though, reading Mathilda and Valperga through an exclusively biographical lens would certainly do both texts a disservice. Therefore, I incorporate other important focal points into the classroom discussion. One particularly useful idea to examine in this respect is Shelley’s use of dream episodes in her works. While the dream that follows Victor’s successful creation in Frankenstein is perhaps one of the most often examined sections of the novel – and certainly one that elicits some of the most enthusiastic discussion from the students—it is important to point out that there are descriptions of dreams at pivotal moments in each of Shelley’s first four longer works.

The discussion of these dreams, at least for me, must incorporate consideration of Freud’s theories on dreams in general, so students would have been introduced to the basics of his work in preparation for discussion of Frankenstein. They also would have read and discussed Shelley’s descriptions of her own dreams, first in her journal entry shortly after the death of her first child—‘Dream that my little baby came to life again’, etc.—and her 1831 Introduction’s description of her waking vision of ‘the pale student of unhallowed arts’, both of which become more meaningful in the context of her description earlier in the Introduction of the waking dreams of her childhood, which, unlike her writings, ‘were all my own; I accounted them for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed—my dearest pleasure when free’. In this way, the students would have examined the ways in which she positioned herself as a writer in her first novel and through her own discussion of it. Her claim to be ‘very averse to bringing myself forward in print’ is a particularly useful claim to examine in this context.

Indeed, by the time we get to Mathilda, arguably the most autobiographical of Shelley’s writings, the students have developed some very useful foundations for analyzing her writings through a lens informed by, but not exclusively dependent upon, biographical considerations. Therefore, I begin discussion of the dream Mathilda has following her father’s declaration of love for her by encouraging the students to consider Shelley’s word choice. Just as in Frankenstein, the narrator begins the description with the words ‘I thought…’. How, I encourage my students to consider, does Shelley’s establishment of a parallel in this way inform their reading of this text? What other parallels between the two texts can be found? (Here hopefully follows a discussion of the blasted tree image common to both texts.) How does Shelley’s treatment of incest in this work compare with the implications lurking behind Victor’s association of Elizabeth with his dead mother? Here, again, of course, Freudian theory proves especially useful in providing them with one possible theoretical apparatus to use in their analysis.

Moving from Mathilda to Valperga involves a considerable leap for the students, as they move from two texts that offer rich material for biographical criticism to what is arguably Shelley’s least autobiographical novel, especially among her first four. Certainly, determined students (or instructors) could point out the potential connections between Beatrice’s Paterin beliefs and the pessimistic views Shelley developed after the deaths of her beloved Clara and William, but this is a text that generally allows for a wider range of approaches, most notably a more historical method. Nevertheless, the repeated use of a dream episode permits the students to continue to make use of the methodology employed earlier within a new context.

In this work, though, the dream is presented in a much more explicitly psychological—if not proto-psychoanalytic—context, as Beatrice’s  pursuit of mental solace in the wake of her betrayal by Castruccio  leads to her revelation of the contents of the dream, first only obliquely to Euthanasia, and ultimately more completely to the witch, Mandragola. Carefully examining Beatrice’s discussion of the dream therefore allows the students to analyze the development of these three central female characters, examining the place of each in relationship to each other as well as to the central, sub-titular character of Castruccio. Certainly, Euthanasia’s discussion of her model of the mind is important to this discussion, but even more basic literary concepts such as foreshadowing and symbolism help to inform this discussion as well.

In many of my literature classes, from the undergraduate to the graduate level, employing the strategy of following a thread or making connections within fairly specific confines can prove quite beneficial. In the case of Mary Shelley’s work, this technique has proven quite effective.


Anna Mercer (University of York): Teaching the Lesser-Known Novels, Short Stories and Letters

Teaching a text by Mary Shelley that is not her notorious ‘hideous progeny’ Frankenstein offers the potential for students to begin to understand her wider concerns, both as a philosophical novelist and as a social commentator. Mary’s work post-Frankenstein sought to interact with the lofty verse and ‘beautiful idealisms of moral excellence’ (Percy Bysshe Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound) produced by her husband, and with the works of her other contemporaries, as well as the texts by authors who preceded her.

Shelley-1Mary’s texts articulate her concerns with socio-political issues such as the role of women in society. For example, her two final novels Lodore and Falkner retrace ground pioneered by her mother Mary Wollstonecraft and other authors like Mary Hays; Mary Shelley transforms her lived experiences to inform the message of her fiction. Intriguingly, as Julie Carlson has described, Lodore and Falkner are ‘silver-fork novels’, imbued with a conservatism and conformity that potentially makes Mary’s work appear regressive when compared to the work of her mother. However, as Carlson continues, ‘Lodore and Falkner attempt to alter marital despotism from the inside’ (England’s First Family of Writers, 121). Such a covertly radical tone reveals Mary Shelley’s subtlety as a novelist. She was talented at producing complex and engaging narratives, which is one of the (many) reasons why her most famous work Frankenstein is regarded as a text open to numerous allegorical readings. Therefore, her iconic tale of the creator and his monstrous creation exists on many literature syllabuses as a valuable tool, often used to teach students how to appreciate multiple strands of critical interpretation at once.

However, as Carlson implies, the veiled intentions of Mary’s other works are just as captivating. Mary weaved allusions to her own life with speculative fiction (The Last Man) and historical fiction (Valperga and Perkin Warbeck). An interesting paradox to present students with is the question of how to tackle Mary’s work that is overtly based on lived experiences. How can we acknowledge the influence of memories, but avoid carrying out a reductive reading that sees the text as simply autobiographical?

It is also important to note that Mary’s most striking and memorable female characters appear in works other than Frankenstein. In Valperga, Mary’s second full-length novel composed in Italy between 1818 and 1821, Beatrice is a prophetess who is eventually imprisoned as a heretic. As a woman she bears the damage afflicted on her by others; becoming a tragic heroine, ultimately she loses her mind, and the painful nature of her victimhood is made explicit. In contrast, the entitlement of the male protagonist Castruccio in Valperga is deplorable. Mary Shelley’s interest in women and society is also notably explored in the character of Fanny Derham in Lodore, a beguiling figure of progressive, independent and complicated femininity.

All of the novels Mary saw published in her lifetime—except Frankenstein—appeared during her widowhood. Not long after Percy Bysshe Shelley’s death in Italy in July 1822, Mary returned to England. She had already experienced life as ‘a part of the Elect’ (letter to Thomas Jefferson Hogg, 3 Oct 1824) and she was now alone and grieving. Moreover, writing was her livelihood. She wrote in September 1822 that ‘I hope to be able to support myself by my writings & mine own Shelley’s Mss’ (letter to Maria Gisborne, 20 Sep 1822). Percy’s father Sir Timothy Shelley, furious about his son’s radical writing and lifestyle, prevented her from publishing as much of her late husband’s work as she had initially hoped. After the appearance of Posthumous Poems (1824) he threatened to terminate any negotiations for support for Mary, and her only surviving child Percy Florence Shelley. She was forced to ‘promise not to bring dear S.’s name before the public again during Sir. T-’s life’ (letter to Leigh Hunt, 22 Aug 1824). However, by 1838 he had agreed to Mary publishing an edition of Percy’s works with Edward Moxon, but on the condition that there would be no memoir of Percy attached. These volumes were the Poetical Works and Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments. Mary’s method of providing a context to the poems in Poetical Works and giving an indication of the character of their author was to ‘write a few notes appertaining to the history of the poems’ (letter to Thomas Jefferson Hogg, 11 Dec 1838). It is interesting to direct students to Mary’s later journals and letters, which reveal the grief at the loss of her intellectual partner and lover, her struggle to maintain herself when she is ‘torn to pieces by Memory’ (journal entry for 12 Feb 1839), and the consolation she found in writing.

Mary’s fiction often includes idealised representations of a Percy Shelley-type-figure, and many of the few poems that she wrote are elegies to her lost love. It is incorrect to assume that a flattering portrait was the only manner in which Mary depicted him; her portrayals of Percy are just one way of elucidating just how varied Mary’s corpus is. The short story ‘The Bride of Modern Italy’, which appeared in The London Magazine in April 1824, is a biting satire of Percy’s relationship with Teresa Viviani. Mocking all of those involved, this anonymously published story demonstrates how Mary’s experiences inspired her to create a broad range of narratives. Her tone is often clandestine; the heightened melodrama of her novella Matilda (also featuring a Percy Shelleyan figure, the poet Woodville) can be read as a critical portrait of an exceptionally flawed heroine (see Charles E. Robinson, ‘Mathilda as Dramatic Actress’). It might surprise students to reveal Mary, the infamous Gothic author, as a witty woman of letters, writing tongue-in-cheek prose.

Mary’s journals have an incredible value to students of both Shelleys, in her carefully documented reading lists and record of day-to-day activities. The activities noted in the journals include visits to the theatre, details of their travels, and mentions of other members of their literary circle(s) as well as the many times that Mary and Percy were writing, or reading aloud to one another. Even Percy Shelley contributes his own discursive entries to the book, and as mentioned above, Mary’s journal becomes radically different after his death. The journal is a document of the very literary life the Shelleys led, an existence committed to studying and travelling together. It is a crucial supplement to understanding the vast range of influences on their remarkable minds from 1814 onwards.


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