The date is 30th August, 1797. In a large, modern house, in an area that is now Kings Cross but was then London's almost-rural outskirts, a family is gathered. A father, a mother, and their newborn baby. The birth has been easy; the baby is well. At this moment, everything is perfect.
This was how Mary Shelley entered the world, this calm moment the start of an astonishing, adventurous life. Within days, her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, would be dead, and Mary would be brought up by her father in a house filled with radical thinkers, poets, philosophers and writers of the day. Aged sixteen, she eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, embarking on a relationship that was lived on the move across Britain and Europe, as she coped with debt, infidelity and the deaths of three children, before early widowhood changed her life forever. Most astonishingly, it was while she was still a teenager that Mary composed her canonical novel Frankenstein, creating two of our most enduring archetypes today.
The life story is well-known. But who was the woman who lived it? She's left plenty of evidence, and in this fascinating dialogue with the past, Fiona Sampson sifts through letters, diaries and records to find the real woman behind the story. She uncovers a complex, generous character - friend, intellectual, lover and mother - trying to fulfil her own passionate commitment to writing at a time when to be a woman writer was an extraordinary and costly anomaly.
Published for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, this is a major new work of biography by a prize-winning writer and poet.
About the Author
Fiona Sampson is a prize-winning poet and writer. She has been published in more than thirty languages and received an MBE for services to literature. A Fellow of the Royal Society for Literature, and the recipient of a number of national and international honours for her poetry, she has worked as an editor, translator, and university professor as well as a violinist.
If we get another literary biography in 2018 as astute and feelingful as this one, we shall be lucky. -- John Carey * Sunday Times *
Sampson is as adept as Frankenstein himself, giving life to a figure who convincingly aches and bleeds ... the landscapes and interiors within which Sampson's subject moves are as crisply rendered as Frankenstein's own plane of Arctic ice. * Guardian *
Fiona Sampson is a sleuth of a biographer ... rarely has my jaw dropped on so many occasions while reading a biography. * Daily Mail *
Gripping ... Sampson has written a fascinating book * The Times *
A daringly swift and enjoyably irreverent retelling of Shelley's life * Observer *
Astonishing scenes are laid before the reader in the manner of vivid tableaux ... fascinating and ambitious. * Irish Times *
[Gives] very real and valuable and sharp insights into the creative process of a work of genius. * Herald *
It is a passionate demonstration of the elements that have kept her story vibrant for 200 years. It is moving, it is alive, it is a success. -- Elaine Showalter * Spectator *
A fresh, clever and intuitive account of the mind from which Frankenstein emerged. * Irish Times *
Fiona Sampson's study manages to illuminate her subject in prose that is both insightful and elegant. * The i *
Powerful and contentious, waspish and insightful, this new account imbues both [Percy and Mary Shelley] with startling new life. * Catholic Herald *