Title: The Determined Heart (The Tale of Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein)
Author: Antoinette May
Publication date: Sept 29, 2015
Rating: 4/5 stars
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?
I received a free ebook copy of this book from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Being a fan of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein I couldn’t miss out on this biography. I have read about the Shelleys before; Daisy Hay’s Young Romantics enchanted me when I came across it years ago. I couldn’t help but think of Young Romantics a lot while reading this book, and this continuous, uncalled-for comparison made me like The Determined Heart less in the beginning. As I read on, however, I warmed to this nice novel.
It has a less academic feel to it than the previously mentioned work, even though it is just as widely researched and well put together as Young Romantics. What gives it a fiction-y tinge is that Antoinette May writes about Mary’s – or other characters’ – thoughts as if she knew exactly what was going on in their head. First I had some issues accepting this, but once I got over it I started to enjoy this book immensely. The writing was very enjoyable and I got to know some details from Mary and Bysshe Shelley’s story that were completely new to me.
Mary Shelley’s life was full of bitter tragedies and it is remarkable how she could start again so many times, how she could go on and live with such haunting memories.
In this book Mary’s two dominant sides are thoroughly discovered: Mary the mother and Mary the writer. Of course she was a multi-layered person, but I felt these two ‘layers’ were in focus. Beyond these we get glimpses of Mary the lover, Mary the friend, Mary the daughter etc. She was first and foremost an intellectual person, but of course the events of her personal life shaped her, inspired her and many times tore at her.
I think Antoinette May managed to draw a vivid picture of this extraordinary woman who, with a novel which she wrote at a very young age, basically created a new genre: science fiction.
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