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Romantic outlaws : the extraordinary lives…
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Romantic outlaws : the extraordinary lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary… (edition 2016)

by Charlotte Gordon

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Title:Romantic outlaws : the extraordinary lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley
Authors:Charlotte Gordon
Info:London : Windmill Books, 2016.
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Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

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This extraordinary book is a dual biography of Mary Wollstonecraft (author, among many other things, of A Vindication of the Rights of Women) and her daughter, Mary Shelley (most famous for writing Frankenstein). Although they never met (Wollstonecraft died shortly after giving birth to Shelley) the mother had a profound influence on the daughter and there are many parallels between their lives as this book shows.

The book is written with alternating chapters focusing on each woman in turn and with each pair of chapters roughly representing equivalent periods or stages of their lives and careers. This constant switching can be confusing at times, especially as many characters, both major and minor, were significant to both women. But this is a minor issue and the structure magnificently serves to show how much they were alike and, especially, how each was treated by the men in their lives and the societies in which they lived.

Both women were intelligent, purposeful, capable and almost entirely constrained because they were women. In their literary careers both published work that was assumed not to have been written by a woman or was ignored or under appreciated because they were women. In their private lives, both suffered at the hands of men who automatically considered them and their ideas to be of less worth than those of a man. Both women had their reputations destroyed after their deaths and were all but forgotten until the rise of the feminist movement in the second half of the 20th century brought them to prominence again.

Charlotte Gordon has produced a wonderful book that takes us inside the world in which these women lived, inside their lives both personal and professional and inside their minds through their own writing and the observations of others. This is the best biography of any woman I have ever read. ( )
  pierthinker | Jan 28, 2019 |
This was WONDERFUL. I absolutely loved it, and wholeheartedly recommend it. ( )
  whatsmacksaid | Sep 21, 2018 |
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.) ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
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 knows each chapter takes up the life of the other subject of the biography. Both women 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 |
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Epigraph
The memory of my mother has always been the pride and delight of my life. - Mary Shelley
Dedication
To my mother, Emily Conover Evarts Gordon
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Introduction
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.
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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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"Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) and her daughter Mary Shelley (1797-1851) have each been the subject of numerous biographies by top tier writers, yet no author has ever examined their lives in tandem. Perhaps this is because these two amazing women never knew each other--Wollstonecraft died of infection at the age of 38, a week after giving birth to her daughter. Nevertheless their lives were closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies so eerily similar, it seems impossible to consider one without the other: both became famous writers; both fell in love with brilliant but impossible authors; both were single mothers and had children out of wedlock (a shocking and self-destructive act in their day); both broke out of the rigid conventions of their era and lived in exile; and both played important roles in the Romantic era during which they lived. The lives of both Marys were nothing less than extraordinary, providing fabulous material for Charlotte Gordon, a gifted story teller. She seamlessly weaves their lives together in back and forth narratives, taking readers on a vivid journey across Revolutionary France and Victorian England, from the Italian seaports to the highlands of Scotland, in a book that reads like a richly textured historical novel"--… (more)

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