TAS's Reviews > Monster: The Early Life of Mary Shelley

Monster by Mark Arnold
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I picked up this book because I have read (and loved) the original story of Frankenstein and have a long standing interest in its author, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851), who is a fascinating woman of her time or any time. Unfortunately, this book didn’t turn out to be all I had hoped. Awarded three stars on Goodreads.

M.R. (Mark) Arnold has crafted a well-researched novel about Mary Shelley’s life and the experiences she drew from in writing Frankenstein. Beginning with her childhood — dominated by a beloved father, cruel stepmother and their blended children. At 16, she meets the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and the two soon take off together, accompanied by Mary’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont.

Sharing a philosophical belief in free love, the three flaunt many of the rules of 19th century society and face a good deal of criticism and ostracism. Arnold does a good job capturing the feel of that society — particularly the evening salons where intellectuals gathered to talk over big conceptual ideas (like the definition of life), quote from Shakespeare, reference early Greek myths, and read poetry to one another. The language and voice of the book feel true to this era as well.

But as I made my way through, I came to feel the author became side-tracked with his own interest in the battling egos of Percy Shelley and friend Lord Byron. And, as a result, much of what I longed to read about Mary Shelley was simply not there.

I wanted to read more about the difficulties of a woman at this time trying to write, get published, and be taken seriously in a world dominated by men. Let's explore her resentment, for example, when both Percy and Byron suggest substantial edits to her manuscript, often simply changing HER narrative to reflect their style?

Or more about the struggle balancing her desire to write, her relationship with Percy, and her parenting responsibilities (i.e. the timeless questions all women face, especially when trying to break out of gender norms). There are a few references to Mary nursing her babies but, since much of the time the couple is quite poor, it’s not clear who was actually minding their children?

By the end, I had to conclude the book suffered from having been written by a man who was unable to actually put himself in the mind of the book’s female protagonist and consider that her everyday concerns would have had a much larger scope than simply writing a book.

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Reading Progress

June 21, 2019 – Shelved
June 21, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
June 27, 2019 – Started Reading
July 2, 2019 – Finished Reading

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