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Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley circle Hardcover – October 1, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; First Edition edition (October 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582433399
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582433394
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,848,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It is little surprise that there has been no major biography of Fanny Wollstonecraft—first daughter, by an American lover, of brilliant feminist theorist Mary Wollstonecraft and elder half-sister of Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Fanny produced no books, lived in the shadow of others and found her feelings for Percy Bysshe Shelley ignored, as the poet favored, then married, Mary. Fanny spent a great deal of time as a go-between, helping smooth over the endless sexual and social intrigues of the Shelley and Byron circle. Realizing none of her own dreams, she committed suicide in 1816 at the age of 22. There are moments of terrific insight, such as Mary's odd, confused reaction to Fanny's death and her transforming Fanny into the ill-fated servant girl Justine in Frankenstein, who is unjustly accused of killing a child. Todd has rescued Fanny from ill-deserved obscurity, yet the biography is more of a meditation on the role of all of the women in Byron and Shelley's circle, and its power lies in Todd's soundly and generously feminist reimagining of these women's lives. Not only a splendid work of feminist history, this is an important addition to late 18th- and early 19-century literary criticism. (Oct.)
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About the Author

Janet Todd is Professor of English Literature at the University of Aberdeen, and the author of many books on early women writers, including the biographies Mary Wollstonecraft and The Secret Life of Aphra Behn. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland, and Cambridge, England.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Diana Birchall on November 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Janet Todd masterfully reconstructs the story of Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter Fanny, a girl whose shadowy and tragic life was lived at the interstices of the lives of several geniuses. In addition to her mother, there was her stepfather, the philosopher William Godwin, and her half-sister Mary Godwin. And the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron were also involved in this story of a young woman who, ignored and unloved, and with a burdensome history, committed suicide at the age of twenty-one.

Although little is known about Fanny, Todd painstakingly reconstructs her movements and imagines what her feelings must have been in her melodramatic circumstances. These events have been recounted many times - but never before told from Fanny's viewpoint. This account of the poets and their circle of female acolytes reads like a novel. Todd presents the actions of Shelley and his circle in the context of what she calls a new, emerging cult of genius. "Genius was venerated, and seen as exempt from "the moral and social principles that governed everyday humanity...Genius was a new form of aristocracy."

Mary Wollstonecraft died shortly after her marriage to Godwin and the birth of their daughter Mary, who could not, as Todd observes, have been an easy sister for Fanny to have. This was a family of which it was said, "if you cannot write an epic poem, or a novel that by its originality knocks all other novels on its head, you are a despicable creature not worth acknowledging." At 16, the brilliant Mary eloped with Shelley, with whom her father was involved in a "parasitic tie." Godwin believed the world owed him a living, and Shelley was his disciple and his financial patron.
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