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Book Review - In Search of Mary Shelley

Fiona Sampson’s absorbing biography of Mary Shelley marks the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein’s publication. Although she died relatively young, Mary led a remarkably intense and productive life. She eloped with the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when she was just 16, gave birth a year later and started writing Frankenstein aged 18. It was also a life marked by tragedy. She never knew her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, who died 11 days after giving birth. She disliked Mary Jane Clairmont, the second wife of her beloved father, William Godwin. It is no wonder the besotted Mary eloped. It is harder to understand why she persuaded her stepsister, Jane, who later changed her name to Claire, to join them. They formed an uncomfortable ménage. According to Sampson: “Jane’s triangulating presence will shape the young couple’s entire relationship.” Mary had buried her third child by the time she was 21. Percy was committed to free love and throughout his marriage kept up sexual relations …