I will write and leave in this most ancient city, this "world’s sole monument," a record of these things. I will leave a monument of the existence of Verney, the Last Man. At first I thought only to speak of plague, of death, and last, of desertion; but I lingered fondly on my early years, and recorded with sacred zeal the virtues of my companions. They have been with me during the fulfilment of my task. I have brought it to an end--I lift my eyes from my paper--again they are lost to me. Again I feel that I am alone.
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Mary Shelley’s third published novel, The Last Man, is a disillusioned vision of the end of civilization, set in the twenty-first century. The book offers a sweeping account of war, plague, love, and desolation. It is the sort of apocalyptic vision that was widespread at the time, though Shelley’s treatment of the theme goes beyond the conventional; it is extraordinarily interesting and deeply moving.
If The Last Man is in some sense a “conventional” text of the period, it is also intensely personal in its origin; Shelley refers in her journal to the last man as her alter ego, “the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me.” The novel thus develops out of and contributes to a network of story and idea in which fantasy, allusion, convention, and autobiography are densely interwoven.
This new version of the first edition (1826) sets out to provide not only a thoroughly annotated text, but also contextual materials to help the reader acquire knowledge of the intellectual and literary milieu out of which the novel emerged. Appendices include material on “the last man” as early nineteenth-century hero, texts from the debate initiated by Malthus in 1798 about the adequacy of food supply to sustain human population, various accounts of outbreaks of plague, and Shelley’s poems representing her feelings after the death of her husband.About the Author:
Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
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