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Maurice, or the Fisher's Cot: A Long-Lost…

Maurice, or the Fisher's Cot: A Long-Lost Tale (1998)

by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

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I remember how in late 1997 literary circles were exited by the discovery of supposedly lost manuscript by Mary Shelley. This story, Maurice, or The fisher's cot, was subsequently published in a fine, and well-polished hardcover edition by Viking, Penguin in 1998. As the story itself counts only about 30 pages, the book is embellished with a long introduction (55 pages) by Claire Tomalin, many illustrations of authors described in the introduction plus four high-quality photographs of manuscript pages, and reproduces the full text of the story in modernized spelling, followed by a transcript after the manuscript.

In 1998, Claire Tomalin was already established as an important biographer, specifically of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's mother, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley's husband. Therefore, the introduction is a very readable and very interesting piece of writing in its own right.

The relations of the many people and their cross-generational ties are a bit confusing, and best summarized by viewing the illustrations facing page 50. In 1786 Mary Wollstonecraft worked as a a governess to the Kingsborough family in Ireland. One of the Kingsborough children, Margaret King, then about 13 years old, later became Lady Mount Cashell, by Tomalin spelled as Lady Mountcashell and settled in Pisa, where she was friends with the Shelleys. Mary Shelley wrote Maurice, or The fisher's cot for Lady Mountcashell's daugher, Laurette.

The introduction poignantly describes the difficulties of women to fend for themselves and develop a career as writers in the late 18th and early 19th century. Incidentally, their husbands and men in their circle are shown to be little understanding or outright pricks, notably Lord Byron. The introduction goes on to describe how Lauretta Tighe developed as a writer, and the manuscript remained in her family.

Maurice, or The fisher's cot is a charming, little tale, which made an enjoyable read. ( )
2 vote edwinbcn | Mar 11, 2012 |
Recently discovered manuscript for chhildren by Mary Shelley. Includes a biographical sketch of the author, appendix, family tree of the author note on the text and more.
  hgcslibrary | Nov 29, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelleyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Tomalin, ClaireIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375404732, Hardcover)

Mary Shelley's short children's tale, Maurice, or the Fisher's Cot, remained undiscovered for 200 years. It's a charming enough story about a stolen child who is eventually reunited with his parents, but taken on its own merits, Maurice is far more likely to appeal to Shelley scholars than to modern-day children. Fortunately, its publishers recognize this and have sensibly included a fascinating introduction by Claire Tomalin--indeed, the introduction is longer than the story itself. In it, Tomalin describes the circumstances under which the manuscript was rediscovered (in a trunk, in a palazzo, in Tuscany) and its authenticity verified:
We were greeted by Andrea and Cristina Dazzi, and offered coffee. Then the manuscript of Maurice was brought out and laid in front of me on the table: an alarming moment because coffee and manuscripts must not occupy the same space. Once we had separated them, I found Maurice exactly as Cristina Dazzi had described it.
Tomalin then goes on to relate the unhappy life of its author from her impulsive elopement to the continent with the then-married Percy Shelley through the early deaths of three of her children and the unorthodox relationship between herself, her husband, and her sister--who may also have been Percy Shelley's lover. So riveting is the preface to Shelley's short story, in fact, that a more accurate title might have been An Introduction by Claire Tomalin with a Long-Lost Tale by Mary Shelley.

Included in this slim volume are two versions of Maurice; one is "corrected and slightly modernized for ease of reading." The other is a facsimile of the original with Shelley's lineation, pagination, spelling, corrections. Read in the context of the author's own unhappy experience of losing children, her fable of a child regained resonates poignantly. This is one lost tale we're glad was found. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:22 -0400)

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Maurice is the story of a boy who is stolen as a two-year-old from his wealthy parents by a poor sailor's wife.

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