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In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein
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In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  256 ratings  ·  63 reviews
We know the facts of Mary Shelley’s life in some detail—the death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, within days of her birth; the upbringing in the house of her father, William Godwin, in a house full of radical thinkers, poets, philosophers, and writers; her elopement, at the age of seventeen, with Percy Shelley; the years of peripatetic travel across Europe that follow ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 18th 2018 by Pegasus Books
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Sara
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

To coincide with the 200th anniversary of the release of Frankenstein, Fiona Sampson examines the inner influences and background of writer Mary Shelley.

I admit I know very little about Mary Shelley other than the fact that she married the famous poet Percy Shelley as a teenager and was widowed at a young age. I have also never read Frankenstein, but nevertheless I was intrigued to see what could possess a woman of this time to wr
...more
Paula Bardell-Hedley
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Paula by: NetGalley
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is remembered above all for creating a monster - the grotesque but perceptive creature from her 1818 novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus – although, at the time, she was renown far more for her scandalous behaviour.

Following her death in 1851 she was immortalized as widow of the doomed Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and as daughter of the founding feminist philosopher, Mary Wollstonecraft and radical theoretician, William Godwin. For some years the
...more
leynes
Oct 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book will always hold a special place in my heart. I attended a reading at Shakespeare and Company (the most famous English bookshop in Paris) where Fiona Sampson read and discussed her work In Search of Mary Shelley. It was a truly magical evening that I will never forget. And if that wasn't good enough, Fiona signed my book that day. Like what? Prior to this, I didn't own any signed books. So, yeah. I managed to cross out two things from my bucket list, and In Search of Mary Shelley will ...more
Beth Bonini
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
There are three strands to Mary Shelley’s life which biographer Fiona Sampson returns to again and again: first, there is the legacy of her famous feminist mother Mary Wollstonecraft - ‘taking for granted the participation of women as intellectual equals’ (p. 154); then the influence of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom Mary persists in thinking of a ‘soul mate’ despite much evidence to the contrary; and finally the work, the writing, and especially the extraordinary creation of Frankenstei ...more
Imi
Oops. I've just noticed the next episode of this online has expired. I guess that makes this officially a DNF.

I was listening to the BBC Radio 4 abridged audio version. I thought it would be interesting to at least vaguely listen to and learn a bit more about Mary Shelley's life, having recently re-read Frankenstein and with it being the 200 year anniversary of its publication.

Honestly, it wasn't great and I think that's why I let it expire. I had listened to the first two 15min episodes (of 5),
...more
Penny
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5

It's a brave biographer who sets out her stall so openly, her object being -

"to bring Mary closer to us, and closer again until she's hugely enlarged in close-up. I want to see the actual texture of her existence, caught in freeze-frame .......................... and about how it is for her".

I hoped this wouldn't mean Sampson trying to answer unanswerable questions with the inevitable plethora of 'we can assume' or 'she might have'.

Fortunately we don't get this! Instead we get a well researc
...more
Louise
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writers, biography
The “girl” of this sub-title made a life altering decision at age 16 that set in motion a dizzying (for its time and ours) 8 year partnership with poet Percy Blythe Shelley. Fiona Sampson traces Mary Shelley’s life with recurrent themes: Mary as an orphan, a disowned daughter, a lonely wife, a person used by relatives and hangers on and a dedicated writer and autodidact.

This is a different kind of interpretive biography. Besides being fully interior it is written in the present and future tenses
...more
Laura
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie, Wanda
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the week:
Mary Shelley was brought up by her father in a house filled with radical thinkers, poets, philosophers and writers of the day. Aged 16, she eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, embarking on a relationship that was lived on the move across Britain and Europe. She coped with debt, infidelity and the deaths of three children, before early widowhood changed her life forever. Most astonishingly, it was while still a teenager that she composed her novel Frankenstein, c
...more
Todd Stockslager
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Review title: Saint of sadness

Because her best-known book has become a cultural touchstone, and the outlines of its writing are already known, it is easy to turn Mary Shelley into a character in her own movie, or a paper saint. Sampson has resurrected the girl who wrote Frankenstein in this short and readable literary biography.

The story behind the birth of Frankenstein is well known: an odd menage of the Romantic poets Byron and Shelley and their friends graduate from reading ghost stories on
...more
Aimee
The information about Mary Shelley was great, but I really struggled with the writing style.
The present tense narration felt strange for a non-fiction book, and the author romanticises her subject rather than presenting an unbiased view. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, it's just that I was expecting a more impartial biography and this reads more like very well researched historical fiction, albeit without much of a story line. It does allow Sampson to explore Mary's thoughts and fe
...more
Rachel Hore
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There's a real sense of urgent enquiry in this biography that makes it compelling to read. Fiona Sampson has to cross-question every piece of evidence about Mary's life, partly because early correspondence and juvenilia have been lost, partly because Mary herself could be reticent about her feelings, and partly because there has been so much obfuscation by others. She evokes well the young Mary's radical literary and philosophical family background as the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and Will ...more
Rachel Pollock
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this new biography of Mary Shelley because my department is currently working on a museum exhibit intended to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the publication of FRANKENSTEIN. It's accessibly written and opens with a whole host of situational historical facts for perspective (like the fact that antibiotics were not a thing yet, so people just dropped dead of now-curable diseases all the time).

I've long been an enthusiast of the Romantic poets which figure into Mary's life (Byron
...more
Yvonne
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fiona Sampson takes a look at the woman who was the force behind one of literature’s classic books, Frankenstein is a title recognised around the world. It has been dissected and discussed numerous times, but what about its creator.

Mary Shelley wrote this book at the age of 18, two years after her marriage to Percy Shelley, she was at the time considered to be an intellectual thinker. This is a time when women are seen as an object or a piece of the furniture, not to have opinions or views that
...more
Russell Court
Apr 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
This just wasn't for me. The story is a fascinating one. A young girl elopes with a married man and goes on to meet many of the names of her time. She travels Europe, frequently one step ahead of her creditors. She has children who sadly die. She proof reads for both Byron and Percy Shelley. And goes on to write one of the classic horror stories as well as many more books and articles.
All in all it's a terrific story but I prefer my biographies to be far more linear. X happened and then Y. I fo
...more
Paula
My ratings here seem contradictory. I would like to read a biography of Mary Shelley, but I'm not sure I want to read THIS one. The abridged audio was presented in 5, 15-minute segments on BBC, but it wasn't especially enjoyable. The language was very "intellectual", and paired with the reader whizzing through the text, I found it a little hard to follow. There was a lot of the author's perspective and theory... too much, I felt. It could be that there simply isn't a lot of detail about Shelley' ...more
Karen
Mar 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a lot of speculation in this biography..."We can assume that Mary..." and "Perhaps Mary felt..." which annoyed me. I like facts. However, it does describe how fascinating Mary is. She eloped with a married man at the age of 16, had four children in less than five years (only one survived), published Frankenstein at 21, and was widowed at 24. She was a survivor. The second half of the book, detailing her life with Percy, reads like a salacious exposé in a women's magazine. Percy was a rea ...more
Fox
Aug 30, 2018 rated it liked it
In Search of Mary Shelley is the first biography I've read of the author outside of brief sketches of her life in the forwards of the various editions of Frankenstein that I've read over the years. My Keats obsession has shown me bits of Shelley and Byron, of course, but Mary has tended to get glossed over by the larger personalities of the poets and writers she surrounded herself with. She's stuck in most minds as the teenaged author sharing a ghost story, and little more. It's a shame. I hop ...more
Betsy
Nov 02, 2018 rated it liked it
This biography focuses on Mary Shelley’s early life, with only one chapter describing the almost 30 years of her life after her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley died. It describes her birth and parentage, her elopement at age 16, the circumstances that led to Frankenstein, and the vicissitudes of her married life. Each chapter begins with a quote from Frankenstein, and throughout the book, Sampson makes connections between Mary Shelley’s experiences to her great novel.

The biography is fascinating a
...more
Siobhan
Nov 04, 2017 rated it liked it
In Search of Mary Shelley is a new biography of the author in time for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein. It aims to look for the person behind the famous novel and her famous poet husband and writer parents (the latter being Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, for those who don’t know much about her life). Of course, other biographies do that too, but Sampson’s is a concise and approachable book that suits a wide audience and those wanting to dip into the writer’s lif ...more
Athena
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
When she was 15 years old, Mary became acquainted with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a fiercely political radical poet, who regarded all forms of authority, including religion, as wicked and disapproved of marriage, even though he was already married, because of the rights it denied to women. Shelley, a great admirer of Godwin, became a frequent visitor in Skinner Street, and he and Mary fell in love.

And so it begins Mary’s Shelley remarkable life. The couple, Mary still in her sixteenth year, eloped t
...more
Erica (ricci.reads)
***This title was received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I'm not associated with the author or publisher in any way. All opinions are entirely my own.***

Released January 2018, which marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of 'Frankenstein' - the subject of this memoir is a fascinating literary figure to me, not only because she's a woman but incredibly she wrote her most well-known novel at the age of just nineteen.
I have myself often felt that the true talent of autho
...more
Anouska
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this biography immensely, it’s beautifully written, well researched, and tangibly evokes the lives of those it considers. But I’m not quite sure that Sampson achieves what she claims she will in her introduction.
I think the problem is that this portrait feels so curated, with such imaginative painting of scenes, sections of life removed and glossed over, that it does not feel authentic. That's not to say this is not a valuable work, but the result is more evocative than it is informati
...more
Richard Cubitt
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Highly interesting account of the woman who, at 19 years of age, wrote an enduring masterpiece. Considerable overuse of the word 'chiaroscuro' in the early chapters; my only complaint.
Paul Taylor
Jun 04, 2018 rated it liked it
A sad story of a life compromised by poverty, social forces, personal tragedy and the inequality of opprtunity suffered by women. Sampson's work is well researched (despite vast gaps in the archive) but periodically falls into the trap of putting thoughts into her subject's mind. It is far better to let the reader make their own assumptions as to what Mary may have thought or how she might have reacted : if the reader is so inclined.
Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir
Mary Shelley was just 21 years old when her breakthrough novel, FRANKENSTEIN: The Modern Prometheus, was released. Her age was not as much of a story as was the mere fact that a young woman, boldly writing under her own name, produced one of the most important, imitated and admired novels of all time.

Now, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of FRANKENSTEIN's release, poet Fiona Sampson has put together the most significant biography of Mary Shelley ever written. Her research was tireless, as
...more
Jane
Dec 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From the distance of 200 years, Mary Shelley's life looks to be composed of high adventure and devastating tragedy. Sampson brings to life the gentle but determined woman at the centre of the storm in a luxuriously literary wild ride into the 19th Century lives of some of the most glittering thinkers of the time.

Born towards the end of the 18th Century to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, Mary Shelley had everything and nothing. She was a woman at a time when women were largely seen as obj
...more
Juli Rahel
Jan 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I knew of Frankenstein long before I actually read it. Like many others, I think, I had absorbed the story of the monster, of science gone wrong, through popular culture from an early age on. Frankenstein is a cultural staple, and yet it wasn't until university that I truly started appreciating the woman behind it, the girl, even, who created this cultural phenomenon. It is now 200 years since the novel's publication and interest in the novel and author are reawakening. In Search of Mary Shelley ...more
Matt Pelikan
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Startlingly good book! This is a meticulous "close reading" of the life of one of the most interesting figures of the Romantic period. Drawing on journals, letters, previous biographical studies, and literary texts, Sampson presents a nuanced, convincing portrait of Mary Shelley. There were certainly conclusions Sampson arrived at that seemed dubious to me, and throughout, this book necessarily has a speculative tone. But even the parts is wasn't convinced be seemed original and thought-provokin ...more
Wei Li
Sep 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Maria
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
As the author of this biography makes clear in the introduction, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is, among many other things, a novel about being human and the anxieties that come with it. Mary herself was all too aware of these with her own, constant struggle to affirm her independence as a human being first, and then as a writer, in a time when women were considered incapable to look after themselves, let alone to write.

This book is a succinct but detailed recount of this struggle, and it's not fo
...more
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Fiona Ruth Sampson, MBE[1] is a British poet and writer. She is published in thirty-seven languages and has received a number of national and international awards for her writing.

Sampson was educated at the Royal Academy of Music, and following a brief career as a concert violinist, studied at Oxford University, where she won the Newdigate Prize.[2] She gained a PhD in the philosophy of language f
...more