Mathilda: The Second Novel of Mary Shelley (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)

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9781512354836: Mathilda: The Second Novel of Mary Shelley (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)

Mathilda - By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley - Edited By Elizabeth Nitchie. Mathilda, or Matilda, is the second novel of Mary Shelley, written between August 1819 and February 1820. It deals with common Romantic themes of incest and suicide. The act of writing this short novel distracted Mary Shelley from her grief after the deaths of her one-year-old daughter Clara at Venice in September 1818 and her three-year-old son William in June 1819 in Rome. These losses plunged Mary Shelley into a depression that distanced her emotionally and sexually from Percy Shelley and left her, as he put it, "on the hearth of pale despair". Commentators have often read the text as autobiographical, the three central characters standing for William Godwin, Mary Shelley, and Percy Shelley. There is no firm evidence, however, that the storyline itself is autobiographical. Analysis of Matilda's first draft, titled "The Fields of Fancy", reveals that Mary Shelley took as her starting point Mary Wollstonecraft's unfinished "The Cave of Fancy", in which a small girl's mother dies in a shipwreck. Like Mary Shelley herself, Matilda idealises her lost mother. According to editor Janet Todd, the absence of the mother from the last pages of the novel suggests that Matilda's death renders her one with her mother, enabling a union with the dead father. Critic Pamela Clemit resists a purely autobiographical reading and argues that Mathilda is an artfully crafted novel, deploying confessional and unreliable narrations in the style of her father, as well as the device of the pursuit used by Godwin in his Caleb Williams and by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein. The novel's 1959 editor, Elizabeth Nitchie, noted the novel's faults of "verbosity, loose plotting, somewhat stereotyped and extravagant characterization" but praised a "feeling for character and situation and phrasing that is often vigorous and precise".

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About the Author:

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (nee 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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