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The Last Man (1826)

by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,3893410,445 (3.19)77
'The last man! I may well describe that solitary being's feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me.' Mary Shelley, Journal (May 1824).Best remembered as the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley wrote The Last Man eight years later, on returning to England from Italy after her husband's death.It is the twenty-first century, and England is a republic governed by a ruling elite, one of whom, Adrian, Earl of Windsor, has introduced a Cumbrian boy to the circle. This outsider, Lionel Verney, narrates the story, a tale of complicated, tragic love, and of the gradual extermination of thehuman race by plague.The Last Man also functions as an intriguing roman a clef, for the saintly Adrian is a monument to Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his friend Lord Raymond is a portrait of Byron. The novel offers a vision of the future that expresses a reaction against Romanticism, as Shelley demonstrates the failure ofthe imagination and of art to redeem her doomed characters.… (more)
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» See also 77 mentions

English (31)  Spanish (1)  Arabic (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
"Pestilence had become a part of our future, our existence; it was to be guarded against, like the flooding of rivers, the encroachments of ocean, or the inclemency of the sky."

Well that was a LOT... i mean the first 150-200 pages could have been cut without much loss and even when it gets to the main event so to speak, there are several sidestories which while they add a little tend to slow things down even more.
Having said that, the overall feeling of length did actualy contribute to the slow beat down of the characters in an effective way.
The style is a bit lyrical and stagey, for want of a better term a lot of stage-like speeches declaiming against the heavens sort of thing.

I vacillated as to whether to give this 3 or 4 stars but overall its worth the 4. It has some very surprising elements for its age.
Its quite an unreligious work which is pretty strange for the era and have a lot of interesting things to say about monarchy, manliness, war, relationships etc. Someone even has an affair, which is a weird subjuect to discuss for the time.

In its darker places it comes close to the Walking Dead in terms or showing the failure of human nature in a crisis, and while it always pulls back from these brinks; Shelley having a little more faith in man (or at least English Man) than a modern writer; her opinion of Nature's nature is darker.
Overall, this might actualy be a more depressing story than the Walking Dead... yeah you heard that right! :P .

This is definitely only for the patient reader who can also withstand the early 19th century vocab, but well worth it if you can make it through.

P.S: There is a LibriVox recording, its done by many different readers so a little hit and miss in terms of quality but i did find it healpful to get through an extra chapter here and there.
There are also a couple of similar books i've run into, M.P.Shiels [b:The Purple Cloud|209525|The Purple Cloud|Matthew Phipps Shiel|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1328817985l/209525._SY75_.jpg|923941] and [b:The Last Man|19273857|The Last Man|Alfred Noyes|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1386458115l/19273857._SY75_.jpg|23983125] by Alfred Noyes. This makes a very interesting comparison with those, especially with The Purple Cloud :lol . ( )
  wreade1872 | Nov 28, 2021 |
This book was okay, but it was too long and rambling for me. I liked the story and was interested in the adventure that the last man on earth had, but it was a little too nineteenth century for me. (Of course, I know it was written two centuries ago. I think people had more time for a good book and wanted to really read back in those days - they appreciated a story that went on forever.) ( )
  Chica3000 | Dec 11, 2020 |
In a future still decades away, a deadly disease shakes the world and threatens all its inhabitants.

This book is broken up into three volumes. In Volume I, the principal characters are introduced using the "tell" method rather than the "show" method. We are told how certain characters are, but we don't get a ton of viewing them in action. Dialogue is limited but long-winded when it appears. There is a lot of almost a drawing-room period piece where we are seeing how a bunch of young people might pair off into marriage or not. However, it would be a bad example of said genre as it's mostly incredibly dull. After reading the rest of the book, my conclusion is that the entirety of Volume I was unnecessary; a chapter (or two at most) introducing the characters would have sufficed.

Volume II deals with a war, environmental havoc, and a plague breaking loose across the entire globe. This sounds like it should be adventurous and page-turning, but Shelley somehow makes it mostly tedious. There are some passages that are indeed beautifully written but a lot of it is repetitive. Again, little dialogue except flowery monologues; the rest is mostly the narrator "telling," not "showing" how events are unraveling and characters are reacting. Still, this is undoubtedly the best part of the book.

Volume III is basically more of the same of Volume II. The plague is continuing to make its progress, but really the vast majority of this volume is essentially redundant with the previous volume. The inevitability of it all kind of takes away anything that might have been compelling.

In short, this book has a promising premise but is mired in tedious, overly wordy passages that amount to not much of anything being said. Personal dramas, politics, and a pandemic seem like the stuff to make a thrilling title but that just wasn't the case here. The characters were bland and/or unlikable, making it hard to care about their fates that the reader knew were coming anyway.

In sum, this is a totally skippable title. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Aug 23, 2020 |
From the author of Frankenstein, this book describes a plague that wipes out everyone in the world leaving just one person to write the story. The book is over long and terribly wordy. ( )
1 vote M_Clark | May 31, 2020 |
This one had a (very) few interesting elements, and the account of the plague overwhelming the world was pretty chilly ... but overall, hardly a surprise this this novel has been largely forgotten. ( )
1 vote JBD1 | Dec 28, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (48 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraftprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aldiss, BrianIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bickley, PamelaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clair, NathanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De Zordo, OrnellaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fabian, StephenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Friedrich, Caspar DavidIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hall, SarahIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mathias, RobertCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matias, RobertCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McWhir, AnneEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Melchiorri, Maria FelicitaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mellor, Anne KostelanetzIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paley, Morton D.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peterka, JohannIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Philippi, IrinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piercy, MargeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tarr, JudithIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tegtmeier, RalphTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Epigraph
Let no man seek
Henceforth to be foretold what shall befall
Him or his children.
-Milton
Dedication
Di mie tenere frondi altro lavoro
Credea mostrarte; e qual fero pianeta
Ne' nvidiò insieme, o mio nobil tesoro?

Text from the author's introduction.
Notes from the Wordsworth Classics 2004 edition state that 'The choice of quotation at once laments the loss of Percy Bysshe Shelley and dedicates the text to him. And identifies it as sonnet 322, Petrarch's Lyric Poems translated and edited as follows by R. M. Durling, Harvard University Press, 1976

I thought to show you some other work of my young leaves;
and what cruel planet was displeased to see us together,
O my noble treasure?
TO THE ILLUSTRIOUS DEAD.
SHADOWS, ARISE, AND READ YOUR FALL!
BEHOLD THE HISTORY OF THE
LAST MAN

Lionel Verney
narrator / fictional author
From the last pages of the book.
First words
I visited Naples in the year 1818.
Quotations
Life is not the thing romance writers describe it; going through the measures of a dance, and after various evolutions arriving at a conclusion, when the dancers may sit down and repose. While there is life there is action and change. We go on, each thought linked to the one which was its parent, each act to a previous act. No joy or sorrow dies barren of progeny, which for ever generated and generating, weaves the chain that make our life.
One word, in truth, had alarmed her more than battles or sieges, during which she trusted Raymond's high command would exempt him from danger, that word, as yet it was not more o her, was "plague." This enemy to the human race had begun early in June to raise its serpent head on he shores of the Nile; parts of Asia, not usually subject to this evil, were infected. It was in Constantinople; but as each year that City experienced a like visitation, small attention was paid to those accounts which declared more people to have died there already, than usually made up the accustomed prey of the whole of the hotter months.
Let us live for each other and for happiness, let us seek peace in our dear home...let us leave"life" that we may "live."
Ye are all going to die, I thought, already your tomb is built up around you. Awhile because you are gifted with agility and strength, you fancy that you live: but frail is the "bower of flesh" that encaskets life; dissoluble the silver cord that binds you to it. The joyous soul charioted from pleasure to pleasure by the graceful mechanism of well-formed limbs, will suddenly feel the axle-tree give way and spring and wheel dissolve in dust. Not one of you, O fated crowd, can escape - not one!
Thousands die unlamented; for beside the yet warm corpses the mourner was stretched, made mute by death.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

'The last man! I may well describe that solitary being's feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me.' Mary Shelley, Journal (May 1824).Best remembered as the author of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley wrote The Last Man eight years later, on returning to England from Italy after her husband's death.It is the twenty-first century, and England is a republic governed by a ruling elite, one of whom, Adrian, Earl of Windsor, has introduced a Cumbrian boy to the circle. This outsider, Lionel Verney, narrates the story, a tale of complicated, tragic love, and of the gradual extermination of thehuman race by plague.The Last Man also functions as an intriguing roman a clef, for the saintly Adrian is a monument to Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his friend Lord Raymond is a portrait of Byron. The novel offers a vision of the future that expresses a reaction against Romanticism, as Shelley demonstrates the failure ofthe imagination and of art to redeem her doomed characters.

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