AUTHOR: Mary Shelley
SERIES: Little Black Classics (#116)
GENRE: Classic, Novella
RATING: 3/5 Stars
With its shocking theme of father-daughter incest, Mary Shelley’s publisher—her father, known for his own subversive books—not only refused to publish Matilda, he refused to return her only copy of the manuscript, and the work was never published in her lifetime.
His suppression of this passionate novella is perhaps understandable—unlike her first book, Frankenstein, written a year earlier, Matilda uses fantasy to study a far more personal reality. It tells the story of a young woman whose mother died in her childbirth—just as Shelly’s own mother died after hers—and whose relationship with her bereaved father becomes sexually charged as he conflates her with his lost wife, while she becomes involved with a handsome poet. Yet despite characters clearly based on herself, her father, and her husband, the narrator’s emotional and relentlessly self-examining voice lifts the story beyond autobiographical resonance into something more transcendent: a driven tale of a brave woman’s search for love, atonement, and redemption.
What I Liked:
- I have to say that the story-line and idea behind this work really intrigued me. It was a weird plot, and anyone who has read the blurb can see why. But it certainly packed a punch! I liked watching Matilda live her life, and how her journey from joy to depression actually came about. Considering the time period, this contained some very modern ideas and I felt hints of self-awareness and mockery of the literary tropes of the time while reading.
What I Disliked:
- This book was so much hard work! Honestly, I felt like I was reading an epic, not a 100 page novella! Most of this was due to the over-embellished, flowery writing. I sat with baited with breath waiting for the next plot phase but had to sit and read through 10+ paragraphs of Matilda's lengthy, soliloquy-esque reflections on everything that went on. It got pretty old after a while.
It's such a shame that this book required so much effort and I ended up skimming so much of it just to get to the end. There was a shocking idea behind this story that appealed to me and I really wanted Shelley to pull it off. The language used here was a little Shakespearean and at times very quotable but sadly, there's a reason why Shakespeare could never write a one-person show. It would drag. Still - I am intrigued by what I read. I want to learn more about her life, I sense that she had a great personality and an even greater sense of humour, and I'm definitely still well up for reading 'Frankenstein'!