“Everything must have a beginning… and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.” ~ Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
In all honesty, I have to confess, I knew very little about the life of Mary Shelley when I started this book.
This is a novel, so liberties were most assuredly taken, but this author obviously took great pains to research her subject. This story felt so real, I often forgot I was reading a novel, and not a biographical accounting of Mary Shelley's life.
Mary Shelley invented the science fiction genre with her novel, “Frankenstein”. Her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley was a romantic poet whose work is cherished, loved and well known by literates and poets, so as much as the idea of these two giants in literature falling in love and forging friendships and bonds with people such as Samuel Coleridge and Aaron Burr, not to mention Lord Byron, it is enough to make a person nearly giddy with excitement.
But, for me, Mary's story is more of a melancholy accounting of a life filled with sorrow, of living with the consequences of youthful mistakes, of despair, and tragedy, up until Percy's death.
Often, I felt as depressed as Mary Shelley did while reading this book. Although surrounded by such visionary, brilliant, and talented people, these same people were so utterly self-absorbed, so devoid of conscience, so apathetic to love, commitment, support, and feelings, it stands to reason that when challenged to write a ghost story, Mary chose to write about monsters instead.
The vision of Percy, Mary, and Lord Byron hanging out together one summer in Switzerland, drinking, talking, taking opium, telling ghost stories, and having their palms read, all seems like the stuff legends are made of. Because it was this dreary, rainy, summer that became the catalyst for Mary's vision of Frankenstein, and because these poets and authors have a long lasting place in our consciousness, I think we have romanticized these people to the point of mythology, overlooking their many flaws and accepting it in them when we would not tolerate such behavior from people in our everyday lives.
Percy's lyric is considered by some to be the very best, ever. He influenced many famous authors and poets throughout history.
However, within this novel, the way Percy lived in his private life, left me feeling quite unimpressed with him as a human being.
It was hard to understand Mary's devotion to Percy when he treated her so poorly, but it seemed that despite their open marriage arrangement, they loved one another the best, and their bond was a strong one. Mary Shelley worked tirelessly to keep Percy's work alive and I do believe that, if not for her efforts, he may have faded into obscurity after his death.
Claire, Mary's step- sister is another key player in the novel, and one you will probably want to throttle. She is a master manipulator, and it would seem at times her sole purpose in life was to prevent Mary from knowing complete happiness with Percy. But, at the same time, Claire is mostly second choice and this makes her desperate and pathetic.
Ironically, neither woman was able to pin Percy down exclusively.
After Percy's death, Mary did seem to snap out of her many prolonged periods of depression, was finally free of Claire, and found contentment with her son, and in her work, although their financial situation was rather bleak. Sadly, Mary's improved mental health didn't extend to her physical health.
For me, Mary's influence and inspiration came from the post Percy years, and her emotional maturity seemed to give her strength to keep romantic relationships in perspective and to be her own person. Although she is best known for “Frankenstein”, an idea stemming from the theory of 'vitalism', Mary did write other books and articles. This novel has inspired me to look up her later work, as I am sure it will be very interesting reading.
Overall, I think Mary Shelley was a woman ahead of her time in so many ways, a strong woman, yet so fragile. Her work launched an entire genre and her influence is still felt today.
This is an engrossing take on Mary's life, based in fact, and is certainly a plausible theory on how things played out for her in reality. This story evoked many emotions from sadness, anger, and frustration to admiration and respect for all of Mary's many struggles and her ultimate triumph.
If you are a fan of Mary Shelley or if you just like historical fiction, this book is well worth your time. 4 stars
The Determined Heart reveals the life of Mary Shelley in a story of love and obsession, betrayal and redemption.
The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley had an unconventional childhood populated with the most talented and eccentric personalities of the time. After losing her mother at an early age, she finds herself in constant conflict with a resentful stepmother and a jealous stepsister. When she meets the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she falls deeply in love, and they elope with disastrous consequences. Soon she finds herself destitute and embroiled in a torturous love triangle as Percy takes Mary’s stepsister as a lover. Over the next several years, Mary struggles to write while she and Percy face ostracism, constant debt, and the heartbreaking deaths of three children. Ultimately, she achieves great acclaim for Frankenstein, but at what cost?