Student Question

What is a good summary for chapter 37 of Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon?

Quick answer:

Chapter 37 of the book Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter, Mary Shelley is an account of Mary Shelley as a mature woman and author. She is able to cope with betrayal, achieve critical recognition as an author, and complete a sizable body of work, in addition to discharging her duties towards her family. In her later novels, she presents women in leadership roles within family and society.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

For a summary/reflection of chapter 37 of the book Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter, Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon, you may want to keep the following points in mind.

Firstly, make mention of how Mary Shelley took heartbreak in her stride and threw herself into work which helped her overcome her emotional loss. This chapter covers a period when she had already been widowed for a decade. At such a time, she began a relationship with Aubrey Beauclerk, a young and ambitious politician who greatly admired her. This warm and stimulating liaison caused her to feel some hope about it being a lasting attachment. However, when she contracted influenza in the summer of 1833 and was missing from the social scene, Aubrey became betrothed to a rich baroness who was perceived to be of more advantage to his political career.

It was to her great credit that Mary did not let this betrayal prove as devastating as it could have been. She moved away from London, so that she would not have to see Aubrey Beauclerk. Instead, she began living in the village of Harrow, where her son Percy had begun school the previous year. She threw herself into work, completing the writing of her novel Lodore. The writing of this proved cathartic, as she was able to address many of the situations she had faced in life, and the ideals her feminist mother had written about in her books—that freedom and better conditions for women would ensure a better world for all humanity:

In the world of Lodore there are no heroes. The male characters are so weak that the women must save one another from harm and find happiness on their own.

Secondly, it is important to note how much recognition Mary Shelley’s reputation as an author and literary figure gained in the period described in this chapter. She had been listed as the most distinguished literary woman of her time in 1830 by the Athenaeum, the famous club for men of literature. She prepared a new edition of Frankenstein in 1831, considerably darker and more critical of society. An invitation from Dionysus Lardner in 1833 to compose biographical essays of literary men from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France for The Cabinet Cyclopedia gave her the opportunity to earn a decent income and put her in the same category as the other literary figures invited to contribute to this project, including Sir Walter Scott.

This is a factor that contributed to the third important development of this period, of how Mary achieved a measure of financial stability. She had chosen to live in Harrow to avoid London society, as well as live on more affordable terms. Her father-in-law Sir Timothy sent her a very meager allowance for her son’s upbringing. Her own work and reputation as a writer enabled her to get by, even if many economies had to be practiced.

You must make reference to the deep family loyalties and sense of duty that emerge as the fourth point of note in this chapter. She was devoted to her son Percy, and determined that he should receive the best education, even if he proved to be an indifferent scholar. She tended to her father in his final days of illness, and continued to visit her step-mother Mary Jane after his death, to see to her welfare. This was in spite of their having had a difficult relationship from the very inception. She did her best to honor her father’s wishes of having his writings published, sorting and editing mountains of handwritten papers for nearly four years, before deciding against their publication in order to protect her son Percy from future social ostracization.

Finally, the most important point to reflect on from this chapter is how significantly it highlights Mary Shelley’s view of the world, expressed clearly in her later books. In this manner, she is echoing and adding to her mother Mary Wollstonecraft’s vision and conviction about life and how we live it:

In Falkner, on the other hand, Mary emphasizes the power of the heroine to save the male characters from their ambitions, preserving their lives and bringing them into the warmth of the family ... Most critics disliked this overturning of values. Men were supposed to save women; women were not supposed to save men. And, besides, war was glorious. Only cowards backed away from battle. Yet Falkner did receive a few compliments for its imaginative reach and philosophical reflections. The Athenaeum thought it one of Mary’s finest novels.

In the work they have left behind, it is clear both Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley were women well ahead of their times.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial