This book is an intense roller coaster through the intricately intertwined complex lives of radical minds. A gripping, poignant book that I could not put down. A wonderful gateway into the volatile and dramatic existence of some of the most revered, reviled and controversial philosophers of their time. This book makes you wonder and think, fills you with awe and makes you cringe with revulsion. It stirs emotions and thoughts and leaves you reeling with questions and ideas about human psychology, nature of reality, creativity and evolution of human society.
This book is a haunting biography of legendary philosophers, acclaimed writers and pioneering intellectuals of their generation: Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley (the author of Frankenstein), and their iconoclastic lives and radical romanticism amid a blitz of tragedies. Condemned to a life of turmoil, and loss, depression and despair, and taking financial responsibility for others - the two women were betrayed and often let down by the men of their lives.
At its heart, this book is about the greatest misfits of their time. About the annihilating passions of artistic and iconoclastic souls. About madness and genius. About suffering and misery. About death and pain. About strong ideals and independence. About being fierce and vulnerable. About complex relationships and debauchery. About love and loneliness. And most importantly, this book is about women who fought for their rights in the perversely male dominated society of the 18th century.
This book makes a profound point from the perspective of psychology. Even though Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley were against marriage and the mistreatment of women by men, they let themselves be taken for granted and be subjected to despicable behavior by the men of their lives. Mary Wollstonecraft twice tried to commit suicide because of a heartbreak while Mary Shelley eloped with an already married man and eventually let her husband have multiple affairs. Human psychology cannot rid itself of the innate need to latch onto another soul, for better or worse. There are many shocking, disturbing and terrifying facts and notorious villains in this book.
Its also disquieting to note how frail and fragile human affairs were during the 18th century. Women and infants frequently died in childbirth and diseases like dysentery, cholera, tuberculosis killed countless.
In the end, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley paid a steep price for being way ahead of their times and their genius was never credited duly in their own time. Here are some of the core principles of the Wollstonecraft school of thought:
Marriage is an evil practice that condemns women to domestic slavery and curtails individual freedom.
Women are not sensual centerpieces but intelligent and worthy of an education.
Materialistic pursuits should be replaced with the pursuit of passion.
Women must become independent and assert their individuality.
A passionate style of writing is better than a logical style of writing
Nature heals and inspires.
I am amazed by Mary Wollstonecraft's originality and the fierce independence and the formidable literary prowess of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. This book is inspiring and heartbreaking. A radical voyage into a bygone era and a disquieting and riveting plot with strange, inexplicable and sometimes evil characters.
Mary Wollstonecraft was born with the soul of a romanticist, a philosopher, a revolutionary and a reformer. A genius of her generation, her earliest stance of fighting against injustice against women was her standing guard outside her mother's door, trying to fight off her father from abusing her mother while her siblings lurked in the shadows. A passionate reader and writer, she wrote pioneering books about politics, travel, equality, social reform, appalling treatment of women, the wicked ways of the rich and the intellectual collapse of society. She ran a school, wrote for magazines and published literary masterpieces, took care of her sisters in an era where women had no rights and no independence and their only role was to gratify and to follow the men of their lives. The sad part is that Mary had a difficult life and her accomplishments were not celebrated, hailed, or even understood by society at large. In fact, except for a few liberals and publishers, the 18th century society was scandalized by Mary's boldness and many critics judged her books harshly. She dies ten days after giving birth to her daughter, Mary. And, in death, she is betrayed by her husband of eighteen months, who in his misplaced enthusiasm, publishes a memoir of Mary Wollstonecraft, portraying in explicit detail Mary's love affairs and destroying her reputation for two whole centuries.
Mary Shelley never knew her mother, adored her father and eloped with Percy Shelley at a young age. She published several novels and articles, and was haunted by the suicides of her sister, her husband's first wife and the death of her children. An obedient daughter and a loyal wife, she does her best to posthumously publish her husband's and her father's literary works. She dies of brain tumor at fifty three.
I don't understand why William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft's husband, destroyed her reputation and why was he perpetually asking for money from his daughter when he had cast her out. I absolutely could not wrap my mind around what kind of strange creatures were Byron, Claire, Percy Shelley, and several others.
Read this book.
The love for books & a hunger for stories was programmed into my DNA. And, sooner than later, life experiences sealed the deal. Books have saved me, transformed my life, enlightened me and have shown me the path I must walk. In a way, far too many books have played the role of kindred spirits and guides, leading the seeker in me to answers and paving a way for a new way of life. Books have helped me keep my wits, my sense of wonder, my sense of mystery and curiosity & my sanity in a life that has been anything but predictable and normal.