The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein by Antoinette May: A Book Review

The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein
Author: Antoinette May
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: 2015
Pages: 412
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: The Determined Heart reveals the life of Mary Shelley in a story of love and obsession, betrayal and redemption.

     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?

     My Review: The Determined Heart is about the life of Mary Shelley. Mary is the daughter of two famous literary writers, William Godwin, a philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of The Rights of Woman. Mary meets a married man and poet named Percy Bysshe Shelley. Soon they run away with Mary’s stepsister, Claire. Eventually, Mary becomes the author of Frankenstein. This historical novel chronicles Mary’s tortuous relationship with Percy as well as her tragedies and triumphs, along with how she was inspired to write Frankenstein.

     After reading a biography of Mary Shelley, I learned that her life was full of drama and scandal. I was glad that there was a historical fiction novel based upon on her life because I knew she was a fascinating subject. Mary Shelley is portrayed as a sympathetic figure and often vulnerable. She is romantic and dreams of a world that is free of societal norms and where women have equal rights. When she meets Percy Shelley, she realizes that he shares her ideals.They fall in love and Mary sacrifices everything to be with him--her father and her reputation just to be with Shelley. 

     Yet, Mary is not really happy. She is snubbed from society by having an affair with a married man, and Percy ignores her. He has an affair with Mary’s stepsister, Claire, and he even persuades his best friend to have an affair with Mary. This is because he believed in the idea of free love where he did not have to conform to society. While Mary loves him, she finds that she is trapped. With her father disowning her, and her reputation tarnished, she has no choice but to stick with Shelley. She is forced to live in debt and put up with her husband’s infidelities. She also yearns to be a writer, but she has no ideas in mind until one day she is inspired to write Frankenstein.

     Overall, I felt this novel to be an in-depth psyche of Mary Shelley. This book chronicles the ups and downs of a struggling writer. It is about two people who try to break away from the rules of society. I thought the novel was beautifully-written and the characters were fleshed out and very human. The Determined Heart tells the tale of a strong woman who faced tragedy and obstacles as well as her accomplishments. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Romantic poets, Frankenstein, and Mary Shelley.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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