Her Lost Words: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

Berkley. Mar. 2023. 448p. ISBN 9780593198421. pap. $17. F
In 1814, Mary Godwin falls in love with Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Their romance is complicated by the fact that Percy is still married to another, but Mary, the daughter of early feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, is open to being with Shelley without being married. Mary and Percy don’t find an easy life together, living outside of typical society and having a number of children who don’t live to adulthood, yet Mary also creates literary history with her book Frankenstein. Thornton’s (A Most Clever Girl) historical novel about the Shelleys also details the life of Wollstonecraft, who lived unconventionally, working as a writer, and having one child out of wedlock before giving birth to Mary. Thornton’s author notes detail how she condensed and rearranged the chronology of Mary Shelley’s life, turning her four actual children into two and glossing over Percy Shelley’s probable affairs with Mary’s sister, while giving more credit to Percy’s contributions to the development of Frankenstein than he likely deserves.
VERDICT Thornton writes lyrically about the two Marys, and readers will sympathize, deeply, with their struggles to find their own paths. Direct readers who want to learn more about the women’s lives to a nonfiction title, Romantic Outlaws, by Charlotte Gordon.
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