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About the author
Mary Shelley was born in London in 1797, the daughter of two of the era’s most radical writers: William Godwin, the anarchist utopian, and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died from the childbirth. After a difficult childhood under a demanding stepmother, she ran off to the Continent at age 17 with her father’s wealthy—and married—benefactor, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, although they did not get married until the suicide of Shelley’s wife two years later. Despite close intellectual bonds the marriage was unhappy, due to Percy Shelley’s regular campaigning for open “utopian” sexual relationships (with her sister, for one), and the deaths of three out of their four children. In 1817, while visiting Lord Byron at Lake Geneva, the three challenged one another to write a horror story. The result from Mary was the novel Frankenstein, an instant popular (although not critical) success. Four years later her peripatetic husband drowned in a boating accident. Mary Shelley never remarried, but she continued on as a successful writer until her death in London in 1851.
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.
The Art of The Novella Series
Too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story, the novella is generally unrecognized by academics and publishers. Nonetheless, it is a form beloved and practiced by literature's greatest writers. In the Art Of The Novella series, Melville House celebrates this renegade art form and its practitioners with titles that are, in many instances, presented in book form for the first time.
; November 2012
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Author: Mary Shelley
In the press
"I wanted them all, even those I'd already read."
—Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer
—Time Out London
"[F]irst-rate…astutely selected and attractively packaged…indisputably great works."
—Adam Begley, The New York Observer
"I’ve always been haunted by Bartleby, the proto-slacker. But it’s the handsomely minimalist cover of the Melville House edition that gets me here, one of many in the small publisher’s fine 'Art of the Novella' series."
—The New Yorker
"The Art of the Novella series is sort of an anti-Kindle. What these singular, distinctive titles celebrate is book-ness. They're slim enough to be portable but showy enough to be conspicuously consumed—tiny little objects that demand to be loved for the commodities they are."
—KQED (NPR San Francisco)
"Some like it short, and if you're one of them, Melville House, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, has a line of books for you... elegant-looking paperback editions ...a good read in a small package."
—The Wall Street Journal