The Determined Heart reveals the life of Mary Shelley in a story of love and obsession, betrayal and redemption.
The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley had an unconventional childhood populated with the most talented and eccentric personalities of the time. After losing her mother at an early age, she finds herself in constant conflict with a resentful stepmother and a jealous stepsister. When she meets the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she falls deeply in love, and they elope with disastrous consequences. Soon she finds herself destitute and embroiled in a torturous love triangle as Percy takes Mary’s stepsister as a lover. Over the next several years, Mary struggles to write while she and Percy face ostracism, constant debt, and the heartbreaking deaths of three children. Ultimately, she achieves great acclaim for Frankenstein, but at what cost?
Paperback, 410 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by Lake Union Publishing
Three stars: A fascinating look at the woman behind one of the world's most enduring novels.
Mary Godwin is used to being the center of attention starting at an early age. She is the daughter of famed Mary Wollstonecraft, an intelligent feminist. Unfortunately, Mary lost her beautiful mother at an early age, but her mother's impact on Mary never fades. Young Mary is feisty, bright, intelligent and full of her own ideas. When she meets Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary finds a like minded spirit. Before long, Mary and Percy are lovers, despite the fact that Percy is married. The two run away together, determined to form their own society of like minded writers, but what they don't expect is a life of scandal. Then one stormy night, Mary, Percy and a group of their writer friends, challenge each other to write a ghost story. Mary pens Frankenstein, one of the world's most enduring and famous literary works. But who was the woman behind the novel?
What I Liked:
- Having read Frankenstein at a young age, I was surprised and impressed that the book is so much more than a monster book. It is a tragic book about man playing god and the costly consequences. However, I knew very little about the woman who penned this most famous tale. The Determined Heart is an eye opening read that introduces us to the woman behind Frankenstein. Mary Shelley was a woman well ahead of her time, and her story is not only interesting but full of scandal.
- Mary Shelley is an intriguing woman, who had ideas advanced for the era in which she lived. I was quite surprised to read about her rather scandalous life. Young Mary was an adulterer, who later ran away with Percy Shelly. The two lived a life centered around their idea of a utopian society, and they even practiced free love. Even though, I wasn't the biggest fan of Mary after reading this book, I have to admit, I was interested to learn more about her, and how her famous book came into being.
- What surprised me the most was the scandal that followed Mary. Percy Shelley was a man born of wealth and privilege, he was a dreamer and a womanizer. He adored Mary, but he couldn't refrain from other women, he even had an affair with Mary's stepsister. Mary herself was no saint, either, it was apparent that she had other lovers besides Percy as well. Such scandalous behavior for her era. Who knew that the ideas of open marriage and free love existed back in the 1800s? This was certainly an eye opening read.
- I liked learning more about where Mary got her ideas and inspirations for Frankenstein. It was also interesting to find out that the book was originally published with the author being listed as anonymous, as the publishing house didn't want the world to know that the controversial book was actually written by a woman. It was obvious that this book was well researched, and I appreciated that.
And The Not So Much:
- I think the biggest struggle with this book for me was that the characters were all unlikable. I felt a bit of compassion for Mary, especially after I learned about the tragedy surrounding her children, but she is a tough sell, mostly due to her behavior. Percy Shelley is detestable. He is nothing but a spoiled dreamer, chasing after every pretty skirt that he met. Mary's stepsister, Claire, is selfish, spoiled and unable to stand on her own two feet. She makes some detestable choices, and I didn't like her at all. Mary's own father is also unlikable. He fails to be a good fatherly figure. Instead of supporting his family, he is constantly looking to borrow money from everyone. Add in the secondary characters such as Lord Byron, and you have more selfish and nasty people. The only character that I liked was Mary's older sister, Fan. It is hard to enjoy a book when you can't stand the characters.
- The other thing that held this book back was the pacing. I always appreciate detail, but this book was weighed down by too much detail. I kept thinking that a large span of time had elapsed, only to find in reality, it had only been a few months. I thought the book would encompass Mary's life, but mostly it focuses on her time with Percy Shelley.
- I wish the author had included more dates, I never had an idea as to how much time had passed, and it was confusing not to know what year it was.
- The ending is a bit abrupt. It concludes with a brief snippet on what happens to the main players, after the death of Percy Shelley. There is a huge span of time in Mary's life that is unaccounted for. I wish the author had focused a bit less on Mary's life with Shelley, and included more of the big picture. I would like to have seen what type of woman she became after Shelley died.
The Undetermined Heart is an interesting and eye opening read that chronicles the life of Mary Shelley, the famed author of Frankenstein. Mary's life was one of scandal, tragedy and eventually success. She was a visionary and feminist way ahead of her time. If you want to know more about the scandalous life of Mary Shelley and what inspired her to write Frankenstein, read this. Keep in mind, the characters are unlikable and the pacing is a bit slow, but it is still a fascinating read.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.