BLURB: “With its shocking theme of father-daughter incest, Mary Shelley’s publisher – her father, known for his own subversive books – not only refused to publish ‘Mathilda’, he refused to return her nly copy of the manuscript, and the work was never published in her lifetime. His suppression of the passionate novella is perhaps understandable – unlike her first book, ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Mathilda’ uses fantasy to study a far more personal reality. It tells the story of a young woman whose mother died in childbirth – just as Shelley’s own mother died after hers – and whose relationship with her bereaved father becomes sexually charged as he conflates her with his lost wife, while she becomes involved with a handsome poet. Yet despite characters clearly based on herself, her father and her husband, the narrator’s emotional and relentlessly self-examining voice lifts the story beyond autobiographical resonance into something more transcendant: a driven tale of a brave woman’s search for love, atonement and redemption”
REVIEW: I read this book in one sitting whilst waiting for a train that didn’t seem to want to leave Paris and return me to London! This novella, however, written by one of my all-time favourite authors, certainly staved off the boredom of waiting. I know a fair amount about Mary Shelley’s background, having read up on her extensively after developing a love for her most infamous work, ‘Frankenstein’, and can clearly see the links to Shelley’s own life that are present in this book. Just as the blurb states, Mathilda’s mother dies during childbirth just like Shelley’s mother, and Shelley’s tumultuous relationship with her father is well-documented, as is her romance with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. However, I would agree with the blurb’s assertion that this is not an autobiographical work. Shelley’s construction of the character of Mathilda is too intricate, too complex, too mesmerising, for us to reduce this novella to a simple autobiographical tale. Mathilda is a character that many modern women could relate to – lonely in childhood and adolescence, plagued with depression, unsure of herself, uncertain of her future, constantly longing for love. Her relationship with her father is extremely interesting, particularly when looked at in the context of the mental problems Shelley prescribes to him; his unstable mind makes him both sympathetic and terrifying, and as a reader we truly fear for the welfare of the hopeful and desperate Mathilda. Although only a short novella (134 pages long in this edition), this book is an excellent demonstration of Shelley’s ability to create evocative imagery, tumultuous emotions and a sense of dread and fear that cannot be shaken off even once the book is closed. I would highly recommend it.