Daughter of Earth and Water: A Biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by Noel Gerson: A Book Review

Daughter of Earth and Water: A Biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Author: Noel Gerson
Genre: History, Nonfiction, Biography
Publisher: Endeavour Press
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 223
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Mary Wollstonecraft was fifteen when, in 1813, she met the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. 

     A disciple of Mary’s famous father, the philosopher William Godwin (her mother was the great feminist Mary Wollstonecraft), Shelley himself was only twenty, though he was married and soon to be a father. 

     Mary and Shelley fell in love the next summer; and several months later they ran away together. 

     Thus began one of the most tragic, poignant, and, in all respects, brilliant relationships between a woman and a man that has ever been recorded. 

     Shelley went on writing the poetry that was to make him one of the immortals. 

     And Mary, as the result of a contest to see who could produce the best tale of the supernatural, wrote the classic Frankenstein

     She was nineteen when she completed Frankenstein, which was at first published anonymously because of the prejudice at the time against female writers. 

     Though they married in 1816, following the suicide of Shelley’s wife, Mary and Shelley were for all their time together considered scandalous for their behaviour; in fact, they were both quite prudish and disapproved, for example, of the celebrated sexual exploits of their friend Lord Byron. 

     Their lives were dogged by tragedy: suicide in both families, the early deaths of their first two children, and, finally, the death by drowning of Percy Bysshe Shelley at the age of twenty-nine. 

     This is a story of love and of genius. Of faith and of rebellion. 

     Mary Shelley was one of the most remarkable and celebrated women of her time, and for all her happiness with her husband, life was not kind to her. 

     But she never went under, and her story is touching, real, inspiring. 

     My Review: Mary Shelley is one of England’s beloved writers, whose famous work of Frankenstein has lived in popular culture since the day it was published and has never been out of print. However, aside that she wrote Frankenstein, and she married Percy Bysshe Shelley, I really did not know anything about her personal life. This fascinating biography not only recounts her fascinating life and her accomplishments, but it is she who helped make Percy Bysshe Shelley from a minor poet into a classic figure whose works we know and love today.

     I did not know this, but Mary Shelley's early life was scandalous. She met Percy Shelley, who was already married, at fifteen. Eventually, they had a romantic affair and ran away to Europe with her stepsister, Claire, that shocked the eyes and and was condemned by England including their families. While their relationship was scandalous, the two remained faithful to each other and eventually married. They were a good match for each other for they were intellectual equals and understood and supported each other.

     I felt that this was a very well-written and comprehensive biography. The author focuses more on Mary Shelley's personal life and her emotional struggles. I like how it discusses her strained relationship with her family. This biography also dispels the myths of Percy Shelley's infidelities, including his relationship with Emilia and Jane Williams. The author said that these relationships were not romantic but rather platonic. He focused on spiritual love, and they served as models of his poetry. He was still faithful and loyal to Mary Shelley.

     Overall, this biography gives us a human portrait of the mastermind behind Frankenstein. While her life is filled with tragedy, she overcomes it to become a successful author. After the death of her husband, she continues to work hard to make sure that her husband and works were never forgotten. Daughter of Earth and Water chronicles Mary’s life, her love, and her accomplishments as she faces many obstacles and tragedies. She has also met and been acquainted with many famous poets of her age, including Lord Byron. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Romantic era, and about this fascinating woman whose works continue to inspire and captivate many readers to this day.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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