Fascinating Account of Mary Shelley's Early Life
Mary Godwin meets and falls in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and to escape their families' condemnation flee to France with her younger stepsister. I loved the story, I felt like I was there, back in the early 1800's in post-revolutionary France, feeling the love, the turmoil, the fear.... but with most painful or life-changing experiences, they can become inspiration for great works of art. Follow their story with this captivating tale, I loved the writing/story and the narration was awesome!
Frankenstein Diaries: The Romantics
The Secret Memoirs of Mary Shelley
By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Michael January
The inspiration for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s most famous work, “Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus” first published anonymously in 1818 has been debated for 200 years. In a later edition of the book Mary Shelley included an introduction to answer interest in the origin of the story, speaking of a challenge between friends, including herself, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron to write a horror story, in what has come to be called the “gothic summer” of 1816 at the Villa Diodoti on Lake Geneva. In this introduction, she claimed the idea had come to her in a waking dream, but never revealed where the name of the book or her character came from and the origin of the most famous name in literature has been a mystery ever since. The inspiration for one of the most successful and famous fantasy novels in history lies much earlier in the experiences of a teenage girl in love and searching for a connection to the mother she had never known.
It is very popular for teenagers of modern times between the last years of highschool and college to go off to foreign lands and tour Europe with backpacks, to find themselves and expand horizons. Today this is done with a rail pass and plane tickets and ATMs for money from home. It didn’t quite work that way in the Regency and Empire years of the early 19th Century, the days of Jane Austen. The “Grand Tour” had just come into vogue.
In 1814, 16 year old Mary Godwin eloped with the 22 year old married poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, taking her 15 year old step-sister Claire Clairmont with them as “chaperone”, and the three of them went on a tour or Europe, from Paris across the Jura mountains to the shores of Lake Lucerne, walking across France and Switzerland with a “portmanteau” on a donkey rather than back-packs, encountering the brutal ravages of the Napoleonic Wars and discovering adventures in beautiful wild countryside, challenging customs of the time and awakening sexual awareness. The journey would take them from ruined villages of Champagne, to the alps of Switzerland, and up the Rhine River to a castle called Frankenstein. After having married Shelley, after his wife’s suicide, Mary would publish the diaries she kept of that journey.
In the 1817 published version of “A History of a Six Weeks Tour”, she would tell where they went and what they saw, but she kept the true intimate details of that trip, of two teenage sisters on a tour of Europe with the Romantic poet of “free love” from where a later inspiration for a famous horror tale arose, to herself, striking out any portions that might be too scandalous to reveal. At the end of her life, when a promise was no longer needed to be kept, Mary Shelley decided to reveal the intimate secrets of that trip. Those revelations, discovered in a lost memoir manuscript found in a private collection in Switzerland were never published, until now, in the “Secret Memoirs of Mary Shelley”. Due out in the summer of 2015.
Frankenstein Diaries: The Romantics. The Secret Memoirs of Mary Shelley by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Michael January sheds light into the Romantic era of the 1800’s. This historical fiction novel is recommended to anyone who is interested in the lives of the romantics Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Mary Shelley is most famous for the classic horror novel Frankenstein. If you have not read it yet, I implore you to do so! No movie adaptation has done this book justice. There is much speculation on the inspiration of Mary Shelley’s tale. I was expecting this book to explore the actual writing of Frankenstein, which was written for a contest with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron on who could write the spookiest tale. This book is something far different but no less fascinating.
This journal describes the time when Mary, at age sixteen, eloped with poet Percy Shelley, and with her younger sister traveled across Europe. The events described take place about two years before the writing of Frankenstein. This journal provides a subtle but illuminating look into the lives and times of these writers.
This book is said to be recreated from secret letters found long after Mary Shelley’s death. I’m unsure where the true diary ends and the conjecture comes in. The voice remains consistent throughout and I applaud collaborator Michael January for that. I know the basics of the lives of these authors, and everything in the book sounds plausible.
The read was enjoyable and captures the feel of this time period. The inspiration for Frankenstein is interspersed throughout the book. From joining conversations on religion and philosophy with her father and his friends, to her stilted relationship with her stepmother and her grief over her own mother’s death, we can see the events that shaped Mary Shelley’s life and inspired her writing.
The story’s pacing is appropriate for a tale of a leisurely tour through the countryside. During the course of reading, I was able to feel the pleasures of exploring the beautiful European landscape interspersed with the discomforts of being short on money and dealing with rude people and poor housing. Character development is very fleshed out. The action is character-based, and explores the interpersonal drama between the characters, especially Mary and her little sister.
Percy Shelley’s ideals of “free love” are explored: what it means, its complications, and the shock it caused during this time period. Readers also get a glimpse at the political climate across Europe at the time. I was able to learn about Mary Shelley’s upbringing and the impact that her feminist mother made during this time when religion and social mores made things very oppressive for women.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My one complaint is that I am unsure how much of the book was actually written by Mary Shelley. I was left confused by that. Otherwise, the book was amazing. I have more of an understanding of the inspiration for Frankenstein and more appreciation for Mary Shelley’s life and the Romantic Era in general after reading this book.
"Fankenstein Diaries: The Romantics - The Secret Memoirs of Mary Shelley" is listed in Publishers Weekly for upcoming books.