I am back for Poetry Friday! Thank you, Buffy Silverman of Buffy’s Blog, for hosting this week.
When I first heard of this novel-in-verse and discovered that it was a biography of the Mother of Science Fiction, Mary Shelley, Creator of Frankenstein, I knew I just have to get it for our current reading theme.
Written and Illustrated By: Lita Judge
Published by: Wren & Rook (2018)
ISBN: 1526360411 (ISBN13: 9781526360410). Borrowed from Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.
I am familiar with Lita Judge’s picturebooks (Fats reviewed her One Thousand Tracings while I reviewed her Red Sled a few years back). This novel-in-verse-cum-biography, however, extends her artistry even further, as she gives voice to the teenage runaway who hooked up with a married man and created a nightmarish story that continued to live on, even as she has descended pretty much into obscurity (story of most women’s lives unfortunately).
I thought I’d share the Prologue with you, as Mary Shelley’s Creature speaks and provides the introduction to her tragic life:
I could not stop reading this masterpiece by Lita Judge. Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women, but she died soon after she gave birth to Mary. Her father, William Godwin was a famous philosopher, journalist, and novelist. He made the fatal mistake of remarrying Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin, a fierce virago of a woman who seemed straight out of an evil-stepmother archetype. Unable to get along well with Mary, she was sent to virtual strangers to live in Scotland, which became more like a home to her than anywhere else.
She stayed with a warm and loving family for two years, where Mary got to know her mother’s writings, which ultimately served as her second birth. Mary drew strength from the rocks, wind, sea, and the poetry and novels that found their way to her. When Mary returned to England, her family was still buried in a mountain of debt, which was to be remedied by a “spiritual son” who was taken by her father’s writings, a poet named Percy Bysshe Shelley who wanted to put his inheritance into good use by supporting brilliant men like Mary’s father.
Admittedly, I ended up hating Percy Bysshe Shelley by the time I finished reading this book. He was fickle, inconstant, weak, self-absorbed, and preyed on vulnerable, wide-eyed, young women who found his darkness, brilliance, and poetry irresistible. This included both Mary and his step-sister, Claire, not even counting his young wife who was pregnant with his baby when he started wooing Mary.
Yet, this book, as steeped as it is in pain, death, grief, and compromising one’s personhood for love, is ultimately redemptive. Mary found a sense of liberation by choosing to love Percy, regardless of how she was shunned by her family and society at the time. And more than anything, she found redemption through her own writing, Frankenstein, being her monster masterpiece, which she initially published anonymously, because as her publisher explained, the work would not be taken that seriously if it was known that the author was a woman.
Yet, it was this act of creation that allowed Mary Shelley to breathe again. I am sure fellow Poetry Friday enthusiasts would agree. This, right here, is my Poetry Friday offering to all of you (alongside the Prologue shared above).
This book is as good as everyone says it is. The art is masterful – as you can see from some of the images above, the poetry pitch-perfect, and the research Lita Judge has done on Mary Shelley’s life extensive. Mary Shelley shines in this narrative, and it is to Lita Judge’s credit that she has given voice to this formidable teenage runaway who lived life by her own rules, and no one else’s.
#LitWorld2018GB Update: United Kingdom