Advance Reader Copy (eARC) via Netgalley included.
The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley’s (née Godwin) life was bound to be an intriguing one. To describe her life as unconventional would be an understatement.
What Antoinette May does with The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein is take the details of Shelley’s life and weave them as a fictional narrative that hooks the reader from the beginning.
From a young age it is clear that Mary Godwin’s life will be entwined with that of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, even though Wollstonecraft is dead. Her daughter is clearly intelligent, talented and outspoken like her mother.
When William Godwin remarries, Mary finds herself in constant conflict with her stepmother and stepsister. Life is not as Mary would have hoped, but her father’s standing means that she is introduced to an endless array of talented, interesting and often times eccentric people.
One of those people is Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom she falls in love with. He feels the same and despite Bysshe’s marital status they run away together, taking Mary’s stepsister along with them.
This is a story of love; a story of obsession, a story of betrayal, a story of redemption, a story of loss and coping with loss, a story of regret, a story of marriage, love affairs and the validity of marriage. This is a story about inspiration and creativity. This is the story of how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein.
Life is not always easy for Mary and Bysshe. They have been ostracised and face financial crisis on numerous occasions. Bysshe also begins an affair with Claire, Mary’s stepsister.
Throughout this time they forge friendships with people like Lord Byron and plan to leave their mark on the world.
Shelley’s life is shaped by love. Love for her mother. Love for her father. Love for Bysshe. It is also shaped by loss; loss of her mother, separation from her family, the deaths of three children and the eventual loss of Bysshe.
All the while Shelley is gathering inspiration from things she has seen, read and been told. Inspiration that, prompted by Lord Byron’s suggestion that each of their group write a ghost story, would become Frankenstein a novel that is still read and loved today.
This is a story well told, May does a good job of bringing Mary Shelley et al to life. I would recommend this book to two types of people; those who are interested in historical fiction in general and those who wish to learn more about Mary Shelley and how she came to write Frankenstein, progressing the genre of science-fiction, but are not fans of non-fiction.
The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein is published on September 29th.