Miranda Seymour is a celebrated biographer and novelist, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Visiting Professor of English Studies at the University of Nottingham Trent. Her biographies include Ottoline Morrell and Robert Graves.
Writers from Emily Sunstein (Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality, LJ 1/89) to Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in their seminal The Madwoman in the Attic (LJ 9/1/79) have portrayed Mary Shelley as a nascent feminist optimistic about changing the political currents of her day. Novelist and biographer Seymour (Life on the Grand Scale: Ottoline Morrell) strongly challenges these views in her animated and elegant chronicle of Shelley's life and work. Born to two of the most famous parents in 19th-century England philosopher and novelist William Godwin and political activist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died ten days after giving birth to Mary the young girl inherited their intellectual perspicacity. When she was 16, she eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and by the time she was 24, she had been widowed, lost three of her four children in infancy, and written what was to become her most famous book, Frankenstein. Although she wrote several novels and contributed historical essays to encyclopedias after Percy's death, she sacrificed her own reputation in order to secure her husband's. Seymour's portrayal of Mary as a woman struggling against the black clouds of despair, haunted by the idea that her own misfortunes were punishment for having stolen Percy from his first wife, Harriett, convincingly challenges the conventional view of Mary as an active and optimistic woman of letters. Seymour's lively writing, penetrating critical insights, and attention to detail elevate this to one of the finest and most significant literary biographies of recent years. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/01.] Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Twenty-five years ago, Seymour wrote a historical novel based on Lord Byron's life that reflected the prevailing view of Mary Shelley, the willful child-bride who, briefly touched by her husband's genius, produced one extraordinary work before sinking back into her native mediocrity and conventionality. Now, in this splendid biography, Seymour makes handsome amends. The Mary Shelley who emerges here is a remarkably mature and steady woman who suffered greatly, first from her erratic husband's self-absorption and then from losing three of her four children before she turned 25. Close to penniless after her husband's death by drowning, she successfully turned to hack work to support her son, her father and his second wife. In her vulnerable position as an unmarried woman making her own living, widely viewed as scandalous and immoral, she was frequently the target of slander. Throughout it all, she remained quick to speak out in defense of women like herself, who had struck out for personal freedom and been condemned for it. The tangle of irregular sexual connections, illegitimacy and adultery that characterized Shelley's circle of literary friends will surprise readers unfamiliar with early Victorian manners, as will the modern-sounding postmortem spin placed on Mary's and Percy's respective reputations. Nor is Frankenstein neglected, as Seymour convincingly argues for its roots in Mary's detestation of slavery and uncovers biographical sources for some of its scenes. Her primary concern, however, is the whole life of her subject, whom she admires deeply and whom she presents as flawed but heroic. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.