Mary Shelley

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Generally when material appears regarding Mary Shelley, its frame of reference is either her famous parents, feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and radical philosopher William Godwin, or her husband, poet and freethinker Percy Bysshe Shelley. Rarely do these accounts provide much information about Mary Shelley on her own. Emily Sunstein attempts to alter the balance so that readers may understand Mary Shelley on her own terms, particularly since most of her adult life was lived after her husband’s death.

This biography will acquaint readers with Mary’s parents, her own troubled childhood, the circle of people with whom she and her husband associated, and the hardships she experienced throughout her widowhood as a result of her liaison with Shelley and other Romantic writers. Sunstein makes it clear that Mary Shelley was a sensitive, intelligent woman who continually gave people the benefit of the doubt, something that most of them neither had a right to expect nor deserved. Mary Shelley’s later life was not as comfortable as it could have been, owing principally to the constant demands for money on the part of both friends and her father, as well as to the continued animosity and tight-fistedness of her late husband’s father, Timothy Shelley, who seemed determined to make her suffer for having loved his son.

Although MARY SHELLEY: ROMANCE AND REALITY gives detailed information concerning Mary Shelley’s life, it fails to do justice to her own work as a writer. Readers wishing to learn much that is substantive about this aspect of her life--in particular about her place in contemporary literary history--will need to turn to other sources. No bibliographies of primary or secondary source material are included: this is a book for the general reader, not intended for use as a reference tool.