Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, died only a few days after Mary was born. Both Mary’s mother and her father, William Godwin, were popular, although controversial authors and they passed their genius on to their daughter. Mary and her half-sister, Fanny, were very young when her father married again, and her relationship with her new stepmother was tumultuous. The marriage also brought Mary two new stepsiblings, including Clara, who would be a constant source of trouble in Mary’s life.
Mary was only sixteen when she fell in love with Percy Blysshe Shelley. He was married to Harriet at the time, and they had one child with another on the way when he ran away to Switzerland with Mary and Clara, who had changed her name to Claire. Although William Godwin professed to believe that marriage was bondage and espoused the idea of “free love” he was livid that Mary broke up Harriet and Blysshe Shelley’s marriage, and refused to recognize her as his daughter any longer. He did, however, continue to woo her husband as a financier for his failed business ventures for the rest of his life.
The idea of bringing people back to life came to Mary at a very young age when Samual Taylor Coleridge read her his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner which contains a phrase about “life in death.” When her sister Fanny, and Blysshe’s wife, Harriet, both committed suicide, and Mary lost multiple children through miscarriages or illness, she sank into a dark place. The idea of a creature that had been building in her head and haunting her dreams began to take shape on paper. Frankenstein was a popular book among critics almost from the beginning. But even this success could not spare Mary from further pain. While the relationship between her and Blysshe, her husband by that time, was no longer the wonderful, shining thing it had been in the beginning, she still loved him. He had dalliances with multiple women, including Mary’s sister, Claire, with whom he fathered a child. But Mary was still heartbroken when he drowned on his boat in the middle of a terrible storm in Italy. She dedicated the remainder of her life to honoring his memory, and supporting her one remaining child.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s life was so miserably sad, that I found myself feeling sorry for her. She chose a path that was unpopular, and that she thought would bring her happiness, but instead brought only bitterness and pain. While this life of defying convention and having free love may have seemed appealing at the time, the true unhappiness of it came to light in her Frankenstein.
I am so glad that I had the opportunity to read this book. It is written in a very straight-forward manner. Ms. May does not use flowery language or descriptions, but as I read I discovered that they really weren’t necessary. The life of Mary Shelley speaks for itself, and doesn’t need a lot of verbiage to improve the telling. I only wish that the chapters included a headline of the dates, as it was sometimes hard to follow just how much time had passed.
I feel like I’ve included a lot of information in this review, but trust me when I say that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the contents of The Determined Heart. I highly recommend it if you have read Frankenstein. If you haven’t read Frankenstein, you should! I found it to be very interesting from a Christian’s point of view, and it’s even more so after reading about Mary Shelley’s life. Perhaps the most intriguing thing was when the atheist Shelley wanted to have her son baptized, so that he could go to Heaven. Due to the Shelley’s lifestyle, this book contains scenes that some may find offensive. But I found it to be a true eye-opener to the lives of some of history’s greatest authors.
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own, and a favorable review was not required. Look for The Determined Heart on or around September 29.