"It is only four o'clock; but it is winter and the sun has already set: there are no clouds in the clear, frosty sky to reflect the slant beams, but the air itself is tinged with a slight roseate colour which is again reflected on the snow that covers the ground."
But my father, my beloved and most wretched father... Would he never overcome the fierce passion that now held pitiless dominion over him?
With its shocking theme of father-daughter incest, Mary Shelley’s publisher—her father, known for his own subversive books—not only refused to publish Mathilda, he refused to return her only copy of the manuscript, and the work was never published in her lifetime.
His suppression of this passionate novella is perhaps understandable—unlike her first book, Frankenstein, written a year earlier, Mathilda uses fantasy to study a far more personal reality. It tells the story of a young woman whose mother died in her childbirth—just as Shelly’s own mother died after hers—and whose relationship with her bereaved father becomes sexually charged as he conflates her with his lost wife, while she becomes involved with a handsome poet. Yet despite characters clearly based on herself, her father, and her husband, the narrator’s emotional and relentlessly self-examining voice lifts the story beyond autobiographical resonance into something more transcendent: a driven tale of a brave woman’s search for love, atonement, and redemption.
It took more than a century before the manuscript Mary Shelley gave her father was rediscovered. It is published here as a stand-alone volume for the first time.
Did I tell you how much I ADORE Melville House for coming up with a Novella subscription service? Each month, I get two small but colorful volumes dropped at my door! Just the right size, and I get to read some classic lit mixed in with all the other books I happen to be reading. Genius! Want to be included in the fun? Check it out here! The Art of the Novella. So yes, now that I have that out the way... I can tell you ALL about how this first Novella didn't quite strike my fancy, unfortunately.
Oh Mathilda, this one seemed promising but it became apparent early on that this was going to be very long-winded (even for a novella). Don't get me wrong, it was written beautifully (I mean it is Mary Shelley!) To be frank, the book started off pretty interesting but after the part with her father panned out and we met her poet beau, I found it downright dull. I can barely understand the idea behind her father lusting after her (super creepy). I mean yes, the father wasn't in her life growing up and I'm sure she looked quite a bit like her Mother when they finally met... but REALLY? To make matters worse, he made her life miserable because of his own guilt. The guy was a terrible human being, so why should I care that he met his fate tragically? I don't. It made me so angry that Mathilda succumbs to depression after he passes, she has the chance at a normal life but she is stuck under the shadow of her dastardly father.
It wasn't a waste to read this though, the book is quite unique and has a very interesting background story. Apparently, Shelley and her Father shared a different kind of relationship themselves (cough, gag). When Mary wrote this novel, her father (who was sent the Novella to be published) never allowed her to do so, saying that the themes were "disgusting and detestable". This Novella wasn't published until 1959, but was written 1819. The story behind the book is fascinating and definitely gives the book a little more depth. I can't wait to check out my next Novella, and I encourage you to join me in this endeavor.