Harris provides a very sympathetic portrait of Mary Shelley and Shelley’s husband and friends. The less sympathetically treated characters are those who somehow wronged the biography’s subject: Sir Timothy Shelley, who tried to control his daughter-in-law by limiting his financial support; Claire Clairmont, who manipulated Mary and Percy for her own ends; and William Godwin, who, though he loved his daughter, remained a distant and nonsupportive parent. The youth and rebelliousness of Shelley and her husband and friends will no doubt appeal to an au-dience of young adults, while their creative discipline and intelligence will impress anyone. (Mary was only twenty when she published Frankenstein.)
Clearly, Harris has emphasized the Frankenstein myth to attract younger readers interested in the origin of this story. Her inclusion of a film chronology demonstrates again her effort to use popular culture as a way of intriguing young readers about the lives of several of English literature’s greatest Romantic writers. Once the reader begins the biography, however, the life of the subject becomes interesting in itself, often giving great insight into the lives of famous people of the day.
Although Godwin may have been in many ways a failure as a father, his education of his daughters and stepdaughters reveals his efforts on their behalf, and his reputation brought them early into contact with many of England’s most famous writers and philosophers. Harris relates how Mary and...
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Harris’ biography is a far more accessible study of Shelley’s life for young adults than are many of the works on which she relies. For example, she provides a context for the primary information in Shelley’s journals and letters, explaining many of their obscure references. She also uses well the data from other biographical sources, making their information more accessible without distorting it through oversimplification.
For example, her borrowings from Elizabeth Nitchie’s Mary Shelley: Author of “Frankenstein” (1953) are extremely useful; she also cites Christopher Small’s often difficult-to-read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: Tracing the Myth (1973; the book was first published in England in 1972 under the title Ariel Like a Harpy: Shelley, Mary, and Frankenstein). Harris’ purpose in her work thus seems clear: to provide a biography that young adults will find both interesting and informative. At the same time, the work explores the intellectual and philosophical backgrounds of a fascinating period in English literature and history and provokes many relevant questions concerning how society should respond to the cultural and social changes that it faces.