I guess that one woman’s forest is another woman’s trees. Historian Kristie Miller notes, “A biographer’s greatest challenge is not to put in everything he or she knows” and quotes Lytton Strachey on the art of biography, "The exclusion of everything that is redundant and nothing that is significant."
I found the endless stream of detail more numbing than illuminating. I would rather have had one paragraph summarizing all those moves you liked reading about so much. I very much enjoyed reading about 19th-century luminaries like Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt, and Mary’s parents, who play a significant enough role to aid in our understanding of Mary and of themselves as well. Some of the parade of other names (Thomas Hardy excavated the graveyard Mary’s parents were buried in! A guy they visited in
Despite an avalanche of detail, I was not persuaded by some of the conclusions
I was particularly skeptical of
I thought Percy came across in the book as very supportive of Mary’s intellectual life and her work, but irresponsible and selfish to the point of narcissism. Do you agree, and, if so, do you think that is a fair portrait, or was
As I said yesterday, I got bogged down in the book, so I took a break and read through some of Frankenstein for the first time. I was very taken with the sections of the book that are written in the voice of the Monster. It turns out that the Monster starts out as somewhat bewildered but sensitive, curious, and empathetic. He is moved by kindness and wants to make others happy. It is only when he is “educated” about the cruelty of mankind that he becomes vengeful.
Mary had such an education as she tried to help others only to find herself betrayed or abandoned by them. I found it terribly poignant, near the end of the book, as she struggled for respectability for herself and her son. She worked very hard to promote Percy’s reputation as a poet and a man of honor and high spirits. She wanted to control not just the selection of his published poems but biographies and memoirs about him. Percy’s private life had, she acknowledged, contained events that were, in Mary’s words, “hardly for the rude cold world to handle.” But if she hoped to bask in his glory, she was wrong.
It is sad to see how chastened she became. Before Percy died, Mary wrote a novel with a blasphemous character and was disappointed when it was not considered shocking. But eight years later, when she worked on her final revision of Frankenstein (authors in those days frequently issued revised editions to maintain their copyright), all of her changes toned it down. The discussion of those changes is one of the highlights of
In the original, Frankenstein and the woman he loved were cousins. In the revised version, they were not blood relations, and the woman took on a much more passive role. And Mary’s revised introduction, with its romantic story about the origin of the book as her answer to Byron’s challenge to write a ghost story, made it appear as though she and Percy had been married when they went to
Mary continued to show an acerbic side, a sort of 19th-century Dorothy Parker. I loved her description of her crotchety aunt as dying of “natural decay aided by her determination to do nothing she was told.” And what writer could not sympathize with Mary’s letter chiding an uncommunicative publisher by asking him to respond, “if your tiresome silence is not occasioned on your being dead.” But she became a woman for whom, in a conclusion of