The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelly and Her Frankenstein. Antoinette May. Lake Union Publishing. September 2015. 410 pp. ISBN#: 9781503945180.
Mary Shelly was the daughter of two renowned parents, William Godwin, political philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist writer. Mary Shelly’s father remarried after her mother’s death, a money-grabbing, bitter stepmother who denigrates Mary’s intelligence and visions of the best in life and learning. Mary’s sister, Fanny, is a timid creature who accommodates their step-mother’s demands but Mary prefers to read and write. The financial condition of the Godwin family is verging on disastrous and it is Mary’s stepmother who comes up with the idea of their opening a bookshop. Both her father and stepmother urge Mary and other writers to create fiction oriented toward children. At first it appears that their income will be moderate but sufficient to support their family. But needs arise and William taps everyone he knows for loans that eventually disappear. It’s at this time that Mary’s life undergoes an intense transformation.
Mary falls in love with Bysshe Shelly, a married man whose possessive wife, Hannah, does everything possible to besmirch Mary’s name and family after Bysshe declares his undying love for Mary. Disaster will follow many years later after their rash, dedicated life begins. Another family member, Claire, will latch onto the couple and create many crises.
Antoinette May interweaves Mary’s growing interest in the power of electricity to invigorate life with the scenery and castles of Geneva and other places. The weather is frightening frequently and Mary’s interest in Gothic elements grows and grows until she finally creates the famous novel, Frankenstein. Elements of her own and Bysshe’s personal life becomes the conflict elements of the scientist and the frightening creature he creates. While many readers have heard about this background information, this novel vividly and imaginatively recreates the probable scenario that led to this stunning novel still read by students and adult readers today.
In one sense, the reader will sympathize with Mary who suffers much in order to remain with her greatest love. Other characters who offer support and friendship during these years are well-known and not so well-known; they enable Mary to endure Bysshe’s changeable and idealistic nature. Their beliefs are counter-culture to British and European ideas about nature and philosophy, earning the couple derision and scorn while hypocritically praising their literary creations. A not-so-praiseworthy depicting of the famed poet, Lord Byron, adds an intriguing, unexpected twist to the plot and its other characters, as well as his influence on both Bysshe and Mary.
All in all, The Determined Heart… is a superb, literary novel about creativity, social and political mores, science, Gothic literature, passionate love that scorns mandated behavior and so much more – all with phenomenally disastrous and delightful consequences! So very well-crafted, Antoinette May! A classic work of literature or historical fiction in itself!
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