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So how do you get your points across and still make enough money to support your son?

October 26, 2010

Today I had to write about thirty-five year old Mary Shelley falling in love with a handsome, idealistic politician who betrayed her by marrying a nineteen year old heiress. At first I felt sorry for her. But single mother that she was, Mary did not die of loneliness, although she thought she might. Far from it. She had a son to support and lots of opinions about the world she lived in, particularly the danger of women’s dependency on men. So, she complained bitterly in her journal (which I have in front of me) and then sat right down and wrote a novel called Lodore. This novel is tiresome, too many characters, lots of duels and improbable coincidences. But suddenly today I realized how radical it is. Mary has gotten a bad rap for growing more conservative as she grew older. The story goes that after Shelley died, she became a social climber, lost all of her idealism (if she ever had any) and just tried to fit in. But if ever a novel undermined all of the 19th century’s stupid ideas about women, this one does. It ends not with a triumphant bride, although there is one, but with a woman destined never to marry. It turns out she is the real heroine and her independence and integrity are meant “to encourage those, who would in any way imitate her.” Mary Shelley is truly her mother’s daughter. Except that instead of writing an explosive polemic like “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” she writes a novel and makes enough money to support herself and her son for another year.

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