NONFICTION

In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein

Pegasus. Jun. 2018. 336p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9781681777528. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681778211. LIT
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OrangeReviewStarPoet and classically trained violinist Sampson (The Catch) brings a luminous vision to her new biography of Mary Shelley (1797–1851). Too often, studies of Shelley intended for wide readerships—as this book is—lean too heavily on reader response criticism and focus on Frankenstein's creature as a cultural icon, at the expense of representing Shelley's story. Sampson valuably addresses why Frankenstein possesses such enduring power: the monster "lets us play with the anxieties we have about human nature itself" on the screen. On the page, there is more, for the narrative forces readers to "choose between two truths." The moral ambiguities of the novel and its later incarnations provide a significant subtext to Sampson's well-researched contribution to research on Shelley's life and times. Shelley "forced open the space for herself in which to write," notes Sampson, and left behind a huge blueprint for "writing women, for the always emerging, always creative, scientific imagination and for the dreams and nightmares of the Western world," a truth as necessary for us now as it was during the 19th century.
VERDICT Highly recommended for general readers interested in women's writing and literary history.

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