Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator

224p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. reprods. HMH. Sept. 2018. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781328740052.
Gr 7 Up—Reef traces the unconventional life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, beginning with the somewhat gruesome discovery after her death of her husband's shriveled heart in a portable writing desk. Involved from age 16 in a relationship with the already married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, the teen wandered Europe for much of their time together, escaping disapproving families in England. Constantly short of funds, the couple often depended on the kindness of friends, including Lord Byron and editor/poet Leigh Hunt. At a gathering in a house rented by Bryon, the group challenged each other to write a ghost story, and Shelley produced the story of Victor Frankenstein and the being he brought to life. The bibliography is impressive; the author has mined primary and secondary sources to provide a detailed picture of Shelley's life. Nearly every page has images of people or places that help establish the social context of the early 1800s. Recounted chronologically, the narrative reads smoothly, spiced throughout with quotes from letters, journals, and poems. Reef manages to keep clear for readers the often complex tangle of Shelley's family relationships and friendships. Shelley comes solidly to life as a woman who, like her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, bucked the conventions of her time to follow her own star.
VERDICT A strong source for research and simply a good read for biography fans.

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