Author: Lita Judge
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2018
Source: Personal Purchase
For poetry month, I’m starting off with a new book by Lita Judge. It is poetry, but it is also the biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I have to admit that I knew very little about her when I began reading and what I did know was mostly inaccurate. This is the fascinating story about Mary, her life, and the monster she created.
Mary’s young years are marked by her father’s steadily declining finances. Mary’s mother died at her birth, but her fame as a writer and women’s rights advocate lingered throughout Mary’s youth. Her father married for a second time and Mary’s new stepmother certainly seems to have been the role model for many evil stepmothers. The family moves to Holborn, just a block away from Newgate Prison. Here her father sets up a shop in which he sells children’s books that he has written and published. Unfortunately, this endeavor will not achieve the hoped-for success her father and stepmother anticipate.
Mary is sent to Scotland to a family that are followers of the work her father publishes. Although her stepmother has insisted upon this exile and it seems harsh on a young girl, these turn out to be happy years for Mary. The Baxter family kindly accepts her into their home and Mary grows close to them, especially the daughter Isabella. Mary spends two years with the Baxters, but at sixteen her father finally forces Mary to return to England. Mary’s life once again descends into one filled with poverty, squalor, and bitter fighting.
Yet after Mary’s return to England, there does seem to be a ray of light and hope, for Percy Bysshe Shelley has entered her life. Little does she dream in these early days that her life with Shelley will also have its dark influence or that their life together will continue to build in the creation a monster that will long outlive either of them.
This dark and dramatic free verse poetry is told from Mary’s point of view. It is often as satisfyingly sinister as reading or watching Frankenstein. The black-and-white watercolor illustrations are perfectly suited to the text and often as scary as any movie, especially those illustrations that depict the monster. I had, in fact, considered saving this review as an excellent additional to October’s usual haunting choices, but the poetry was just too compelling not to share sooner.