Thursday, March 22, 2018

Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein written and illustrated by Lita Judge

Here is a brilliant new fictionalized biography about Mary Shelley by Lita Judge, just in time for the  200th anniversary of the publication of her best known work, Frankenstein. I have to admit that when I read Frankenstein in junior high school, I never really thought much about the author. I was reading it on my own then, and even when I reread it in college, Mary Shelley was basically ignored (perhaps my professor was a fan of Roland Barthes' The Death of the Author). Of course, we all learned that Frankenstein was the result of a challenge by Lord Byron to his companions to write a better horror story than the ones he had been reading,

and that Mary took up the challenge, and created her masterpiece. Oh, how I wish I had had Mary's Monster when I was first reading Frankenstein.

Written in free verse from Mary Shelley's point of view, Judge has created this fictionalized biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley that will change the reader's perceptions of her and give them real insight and a new appreciation for both the author and her novel. Judge has divided Mary's story into nine parts, mirroring the nine months it took Mary to write Frankenstein. There is also an Introduction by Judge, and a Prologue by Mary's Creature.

The story then begins in 1812 with Mary on a boat, traveling alone from England to Scotland at her step-mother's insistence, to live with friends because the debts of the family business have increased considerably. On the trip, Mary recalls her childhood - the death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, in 1797 when she is only 11 days old, her caring, unconventional father, her loving step-sister Fanny, and favorite visits from poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge. But this all quickly morphs into unhappiness when Mary's father remarries a cold, ambitious woman, who doesn't get alone with Mary and demands that she be sent away.

After two years, Mary returns home to London in 1814, and it is then that she meets and falls in love with aspiring poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary runs off with him at age 16, leaving England to live together, first in Paris, then Switzerland. Shelley is already married to another woman named Harriet, but has convinced Mary that his marriage to her is over. Mary soon finds herself pregnant with Shelley's baby.

Disowned by her father, Mary's life continues to be one of unhappiness, disappointment, betrayal, broken promises, and loss. Nevertheless, she manages to write Frankenstein while still in her teens and pregnant.

Mary's Monster is an extraordinary book, a perfect melding of both romantic and gothic fiction, two genres that were popular in Mary Shelley's day. And as if her nuanced poetry weren't enough to pull the reader into Mary's life, Judge has included over 300 pages of black and white watercolor illustrations that add to the ominous atmosphere permeating this work. Nor does Judge pull any punches or skirt around the hard issues and events in Mary's life. Because she includes the fact that Mary and Shelley made love beside her mother's grave (and most likely conceived their first child there), the deaths of Mary's children, the use of opium by her husband and his friends, the suicides of her half-sister and Shelley's first wife, I would recommend this book for mature teen readers - and I do highly recommend it.  

Although this is a fictionalized biography, Judge has included back matter giving more information about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein, as well as an Author's Note, a list of the people in Mary's life and what became of them, a list of books that they were reading, notes for each part of the book, and a Bibliography.

Frankenstein was the creation of one man and composed of the parts of many. Perhaps Mary felt like she was too -
Something to think about as you read the hauntingly poignant fictionalized biography.

You can find an extensive, useful Teacher's Guide for Mary's Monster HERE

You can find a very enlightening interview with Lita Judge about the creation of Mary's Monster HERE

Lita Judge has shared a very interesting timeline of her writing and research process that you can read HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 15+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

1 comment:

  1. This sounds fascinating! I don't think I've ever read a fictionalized biography before.


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