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Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of…

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her…

by Charlotte Gordon

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5454. Romantic Outlaws The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon (read 26 Mar 2017) (National Book Critics Circle Award fpr biography for 2015) This excellently researched book is a dual biography of a mother and daughter. The mother died ten days after her daughter was born so the lives did not coincide much. Mary Wollstonecraft was born 27 April 1759 and died 10 Sept 1801. Her daughter Mary Godwin was born 30 Aug 1801, eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley at age 16 (even though Shelley had a wife). and died 1 Feb 1851. The lives are told in alternating chapters, which means we at each chapter go to a different era. But this works pretty well since the reader know each chapter takes up the life of the other subject of the other biography. Both woman were subjected to deprecatory criticism during their lives and after their death and the book carefully delineates such criticism. Now the women have overcome that criticism and are viewed as the exceptional persons they were. One is amazed at the vast amount of material which the author has assiduously mined to tell of the intensely interesting lives led by both Marys. There are 547 pages of text, 55 pages of notes, and a 15-page bibliography. The book is a monumental work of careful scholarship, and eminently readable. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Mar 26, 2017 |
I really enjoyed this dual biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. I knew Mary Wollstonecraft as the author of [The Vindication of the Rights of Women] and an early feminist, but I didn't know the extent of her political writings or how her lifestyle reflected her views of the need for feminine independence. Mary Shelley I really only knew about [Frankenstein] and that she was married to Percy Shelley, the poet.

This book beautifully illuminates both of their lives and the influence that Mary Wollstonecraft still had on Mary Shelley through her writing and reputation, despite the fact that she died a few days after giving birth to Shelley. Gordon alternates chapters in the women's lives so that you see them growing up in parallel. I both loved and hated this. It succeeds in that it keeps the focus on how Wollstonecraft's life influenced Shelley despite the lack of physical presence. But it also was confusing sometimes to keep the two lives straight, especially as some people are obviously present in both lives. In the end, I think I have it mostly straight in my mind and I think the format was an interesting and effective choice. ( )
  japaul22 | Dec 18, 2016 |
I really enjoyed this dual biography. It's well-written, the pacing works, and Gordon did a great job of discussing the women's similarities and differences, and putting their lives in the context of the era they lived in.

If I have a complaint, it's that because Gordon calls both women "Mary," I sometimes got confused about which one she was talking about. (Didn't help that I read the second half of the book with a fever.) ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
This mammoth book is a brilliantly written double biography of two of the greatest female figures - and figures overall - of late 18th and early 19th century English literature and political philosophy, probably one of the most famous and also misunderstood mother and daughter pairings in history. Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman, died in childbirth at the age of 38 giving birth to the future Mary Shelley, best known as the author of Frankenstein. They both struggled against the attitudes of their times, when women were considered their husbands' personal property, yet were also both married to brilliant and (in many ways, though not all) liberal-minded men, William Godwin, political philosopher and novelist; and Percy Shelley, famous poet and outrageous radical of the Romantic period. A lot of aspects of their lives mirror each other in being out of step with the morals of their own, and indeed of much later, times, loving and being loved by their men and giving birth outside wedlock; and having their own outspoken views about society and literature in an era when it was generally assumed that women could not hold properly considered views on such weighty matters. The structure of the book, with alternating chapters dealing chronologically with the lives of either of the two women, works well, though occasionally I did get momentarily confused about which Mary I was reading. Like I suspect many readers of this book, I was more familiar beforehand with the life of Mary Shelley than that of her mother, so there was little real confusion; someone not familiar with either of their lives might found this approach a little difficult. There are a fair number of interesting illustrations. This book would appeal to anyone interested in the lives of great writers, the development of political philosophy and literature during the Enlightenment, or even just interested in reading about colourful lives full of incident and controversy. ( )
  john257hopper | Apr 17, 2016 |
Although I am only a third of the way, I have found this a phenomenal biography. The biographies of both mother and daughter are developed chronologically in interspersed chapters; that is, every other chapter is dedicated to one of the Marys. This is a little confusing at the beginning, trying to keep who one is reading about at the time- is it the mother or the daughter? But soon the story falls into place as their lives have very distinguishing characteristics. ( )
  xieouyang | Nov 20, 2015 |
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The memory of my mother has always been the pride and delight of my life. - Mary Shelley
To my mother, Emily Conover Evarts Gordon
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In London, England, on August 30, 1797, a newborn baby fought for her life.
On a sunny afternoon in late August 1801, a few miles north of London, three-year-old Mary Godwin held her father's hand as they walked through the gates of St. Pancras churchyard.
The point of a good book was to provoke both ideas and emotion in the reader, not to engage in a battle of wits.
When I placed my head on my pillow, I did not sleep, nor could I be said to think. My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. - Mary Shelley
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