Sunday, 18 March 2018

Mary Shelley: Daughter of Earth and Water by Noel Gerson


Mary Shelley: Daughter of Earth and Water by Noel Gerson
First published by William Morrow and Company in 1972.

Where to buy this book:



How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

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.

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.

I downloaded a copy of this biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley when I saw it advertised in an Endeavour Press e-mail newsletter. The book was first published in the 1970s and has now been re-released as an ebook. I thought it made an interesting companion to Glorious Apollo, the novel about Byron I had then recently read as there are crossovers where Byron and the Shelley's lives intertwined. I read this book for the Endeavour Press virtual Historical Fiction Festival which took place place from the 18th to the 22nd April 2016.

Gerson obviously did a lot of research for Daughter Of Earth And Water so was able to both describe many aspects of her life and to discount theories put forward in previous works. He talks about the inspiration for and writing of Frankenstein as well as Mary's other novels, stories, translations and poetry. I had no idea that she was such an accomplished and intellectual author, easily the equal of her poet husband. Gerson goes into detail about the scandal of the Shelley's early pre-marriage relationship and the philosophical influence of Mary's father, William Godwin, which enabled her to live such a relatively free life for a woman at that time. I was amazed at, and little jealous of, their extensive European travels, especially as everyone seemed to be permanently on the verge of bankruptcy, but the tragedies they endured would try anyone's sanity.

Gerson's writing style is a little dated as is to be expected and the book is let down by frequent typos which I think are caused by automated reading of faded print in an original copy. Mary's friend Tom Medwin gets renamed Toni Medwin, and letters often start with 'my clear'. None of the typos make the book difficult to understand, but the carelessness is distracting and all the instances would be easy to catch and correct if the final copy had been proofread.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Noel Gerson / Biography and memoir / Books from America

10 comments:

  1. Great review,I honestly didn't know all that much about her personal life aside from her writings of course.

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    1. Thanks Kimberly!
      Mary had a fascinating life

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  2. This is perfect timing since I just reread Frankenstein last week lol. I didn't know anything about Mary Shelley though, so I learned a few things just from reading your review!

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    1. I did this the other way around: reading Frankenstein as a consequence of this biography!

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  3. Interestingly my husband who isn't much of a feminist nor a bookworm was the one that told me all about Mary's accomplishments as a poetess and author :)

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    1. That's cool! I was surprised that Mary doubted her own abilities so much because she was a woman. She had so few role models to inspire her. Thank goodness that's changed!

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  4. This is really cool! Strangely, it never occurred to me that someone would have written a book about Mary Shelley but now that I know, I want to read it! I just read Frankenstein last year for the first time and really enjoyed it. That is really irritating about all those preventable typos, though.

    Laura @BlueEyeBooks

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    1. I think the book must have been transferred from paper to digital automatically and no one actually proofread. It's a minor annoyance, but the book is still easily readable.

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  5. I understand how typos can be frustrating, even if you get why they happened. Typos bother me a lot too. I absolutely loved Frankenstein when I read it so I would actually be interested in knowing more about Mary Shelley.

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    1. I knew very little about her so enjoyed learning more. She had an incredible life - especially for the times.

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