Mathilda Book cover, with cut-out outline of young woman in profile, through which you can see a body of water with an empty rowboat
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Ah, poor Mary Shelley. I’m thinking she has this charmed life – daughter of two talented intellectuals, married to a gorgeous poet husband, herself a writer of what turns out to be one of the most famous books of all time, Frankenstein.

Then I find out that she wrote a little novella, Mathilda, that so shocked and outraged her father (also her publisher) with its subject of father-daughter incest that it was first published in 1959 – over 150 years after it was written. While some read it as autobiographical (young girl with a dead mother, falls in love with a beautiful romantic poet), others of course say it’s purely fiction. Regardless, her life was full of much more tragedy than one person should have to handle.

Anyway, the book. It’s creepy. And sad. Here’s this young girl, so full of longing and loneliness and feelings, whose absent father finally comes back into her life. He’s returned after years of wandering and recovering from the death of his beloved bride. He can finally face being a father to the daughter they had together.

Mathilda is so innocent, so eager to have a relationship with her father. Her dreams of a happy family life are catastrophically demolished when hear old dad decides he wants more than that.

Did I mention this was creepy? No? It’s creepy. Fortunately, it never gets explicit or graphic, but Shelley’s heartfelt rendering of Mathilda’s destruction is tragic enough.

Anyone know of a good Mary Shelly biography? I’d love to read more about her life.


2 thoughts on “Mathilda

  1. Pingback: The Classics Club | Wandering in the Stacks

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