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The Beauty of the End
Debbie Howells

from FictionZeal.com re: The Determined Heart: A Tale of Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein

The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein - Antoinette May

Frankenstein would be the result of Mary Shelley’s creativity.  But, that would not come until several years later.  The focus of this novel is the life of Mary Godwin, daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, both authors in their own right.  Mary Wollstonecraft was an early feminist, and many hated her outspoken manner.  But, Mary Wollstonecraft died shortly after Mary’s birth, leaving William Godwin to raise two young girls, his stepdaughter Frances (Fanny) Imlay, and Mary.  When Mary was four, he remarried Jane Clairmont who had two children of her own.

Money from the sale of William’s books was rapidly declining and times were financially burdensome for the family.  They moved to London where Jane had the idea to open a book store.  Mary’s first impression of Skinner Street was “… worse than anything she could have imagined.  Offal and blood from the Smithfield Slaughterhouse had been left to putrefy in open gutters, and every kind of trash littered the road.”

As Mary matured, she met and fell head over heels in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley.  He was already married and could not part from his wife, Harriet, and so they left together to form their own illegitimate union.  Her step sister, Claire, went with them.  Soon he was intimate with Claire, cheating on Mary as he had cheated on Harriet.  Yet her love for him remained unusually strong.

This is a very gripping historical fiction novel set in the early 19th century.  In the author’s note, Antoinette May explains, “Dates and incidents have sometimes been slightly altered in the interests of presenting Mary’s life in its true, totality.”  I loved how the story enveloped ‘shadows’ of things that would stimulate Mary’s later writing of Frankenstein.  For instance, as a young girl, she’d sneak behind a sofa and listen to her father and his friends.  One evening, scientist Anthony Carlisle told about experiments being conducted on executed prisoners.  He said, “…tonight we finally succeeded in passing electricity through the corpse of one of them.  Can you believe—the poor creature actually moved!”  Rating: 4 out of 5.