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Monday, October 31, 2016

The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein by Antoinette May

From Goodreads:

The Determined Heart reveals the life of Mary Shelley in a story of love and obsession, betrayal and redemption.

The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley had an unconventional childhood populated with the most talented and eccentric personalities of the time. After losing her mother at an early age, she finds herself in constant conflict with a resentful stepmother and a jealous stepsister. When she meets the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she falls deeply in love, and they elope with disastrous consequences. Soon she finds herself destitute and embroiled in a torturous love triangle as Percy takes Mary’s stepsister as a lover. Over the next several years, Mary struggles to write while she and Percy face ostracism, constant debt, and the heartbreaking deaths of three children. Ultimately, she achieves great acclaim for Frankenstein, but at what cost?

Frankenstein is so much more than a monster story, as anyone who has read it, or watched the play or movies, knows. This is a novelization of Mary Shelley's life, in which we can see the seeds of the now famous story planted early in her life.  It started as a contest between friends, another fairly well known fact, but I was interested to learn more about this woman, who created such a terrible and complex monster, and the doctor who brought him to life, just to see if he could, ending in the complete destruction of his own existence.  What kind of life did Mary have to have inspired such a story?

I got much more than I was expecting.  Mary seemed to be constantly get used and taken advantage of in her father's and husband's seeking of an intellectual and eccentric lives.  It seems that she put up with so much, for love of those who in my opinion didn't reciprocate in kind.  So many hardships and difficulties, I know I would have packed it in and gone back home early on, but Mary never did, and finally in the end, was able to be her own woman, despite all the men (and women) in her life that tried to use her or push her to the side for their own ideas to take precedence, though often accused of being selfish herself.  She did make some bad choices, but was also not the only one involved in those, so I personally don't feel the blame rests solely, or even mostly on her for any of them.

I was deeply drawn in to the story of her life, and decided to make a whole month of Frankenstein, reading the actual novel on Serial Reader (an app than delivers classics to your device in small bits each day) and then seeing the encore presentation of Benedict Cumberbatch playing the creature in the National Theater live production last week.  Cumberbatch was amazing, as expected, and was really able to bring to life this creature who awakens with the body of a man, but with no idea how to use it, and no concept of society except the fear and hatred he encounters early on, as much as he would like to be gentle and loved. 

While most consider Frankenstein to be a horror story, it was one of, if not the, first science fiction novels every written.  This was an interesting look at the life of a highly intelligent woman in a time where that was just not accepted, and I often wondered what else could possibly go wrong for her!  I gave it a 4/5 and would definitely recommend it to those interested in Frankenstein's creation and historical fiction.


  1. Great review! I love Frankenstein so I think I'll have to check this one out. It's always interesting to learn more about the authors behind the story.

    1. Thank you! I agree! The Frankenstein image has become such a staple of our Halloween culture it was very interesting in this version how the seeds for the story were planted so early in her life, listening to her father's guests and their discussions.


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