LibriVox: Mrs. Shelley by Lucy Madox Rossetti (a biography of Mary Shelley)

SFFaudio Online Audio

I cannot wholeheartedly recommend you listen to this biography of Mary Shelley. There’s far too much surmising and a great deal too much imagining what Mary Shelley’s life was like for my taste. And while it’s true that we probably know a great deal more about Mary Shelley’s life now, than her biographer knew at the time of the writing, Mrs. Shelley feels as if it was written as a writing assignment, rather than a work of keen interest. Further, the author, Lucy Madox Rossetti, takes it upon herself to do a kind of literary criticism of Shelley’s fiction in the biography! I find it rather catty, and given even my limited understanding of the subject (Mary Shelley), I suspect Rossetti it is badly informed. Take this bit, written about Shelley’s The Last Man, as a for instance:

To give an adequate idea of genius with all its charm, and yet with its human imperfections, was beyond Mary’s power. Adrian, the son of kings, the aristocratic republican, is the weakest part, and one cannot help being struck by Mary Shelley’s preference for the aristocrat over the plebeian. In fact, Mary’s idea of a republic still needed kings’ sons by their good manners to grace it, while, at the same time, the king’s son had to be transmuted into an ideal Shelley. This strange confusion of ideas allowed for, and the fact that over half a century of perhaps the earth’s most rapid period of progress has passed, the imaginative qualities are still remarkable in Mary. Balloons, then dreamed of, were attained; but naturally the steam-engine and other wonders of science, now achieved, were unknown to Mary. When the plague breaks out she has scope for her fancy, and she certainly adds vivid pictures of horror and pathos to a subject which has been handled by masters of thought at different periods.

It’s writing like that makes you wonder why she bothered writing the book at all. And Lucy Madox Rossetti is just plain wrong about some of it. Thomas Newcomen, the father of the atmospheric engine (steam-engine) created his apparatus almost a century before Mary Shelley was even born.

One saving grace, if this audiobook has one, are the capsule synopses of Shelley’s many novels and stories. They are actually rather handy!

But, to the biography, the fact remains this is the only public domain biography of Mary Shelley yet available on LibriVox. Until a better one appears we will have to make do with…

LibriVoxMrs. Shelley
By Lucy Madox Rossetti; Read by various
29 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 6 Hours 44 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: October 13, 2010
Mrs. Shelley is a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, author of Frankenstein and other works, wife of Percy Shelley, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin who penned The Vindication of the Rights of Women, and daughter of William Godwin, a philosopher and novelist. The life of this woman, who at nineteen wrote a story that has become a part of everyday culture, is its own story to tell. The author, Lucy Madox Brown Rossetti, was the daughter of the artist Ford Madox Brown and the wife of William Michael Rossetti of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

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[Thanks also to Amy Gramour, mim@can, Andreia, teanah and J.M. Smallheer]

Posted by Jesse Willis

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