[ISBC] May 2012: Mathilda, Mary Shelley

The “Inner Senshi Book Club” is an online book club where five book lovers of different backgrounds and tastes across the world take turns at selecting and hosting a book each month. Individually, we are (in alphabetical order): Aimee, Angel, Meghan, Samantha L, and Samantha R. Together, we present you a whole range of books, complete with our responses to a rotating list of set questions.

A new book is selected on the 15th of each month, and our thoughts are posted roughly four to five weeks later. We hope you can join us in our reading shenanigans! (The book club derives its name from the five soldiers of love and justice from the Japanese manga and anime series, Sailormoon. We are just as kickass, and if all goes to plan, twice as well-read.)

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This tale of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter, his suicide, and the daughter’s reaction isn’t strictly autobiographical — but elements of it come from Mary Shelley’s life. The three main characters are clearly Mary Shelley herself, Godwin, and Percy Bysshe Shelley — and their relations can easily be reassorted to correspond with their lives.

So I struggled a bit with this book, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It wasn’t because of the writing style or language (I’ve read far too much 19th century literature to have issues with those) and it wasn’t because of the characters themselves or the plot. And I think I’ve worked it out. It was the sadness that ran throughout the story. Underneath every word there was a sense of melancholy and there is little reprieve from it, which is why I believe it took me so long to get through despite it being only sixty pages long (in my copy). Yet despite the struggle that I had getting through it, I’m glad I’ve read it because I found Matilda to be such an interesting character. Well, perhaps not interesting, that’s probably the wrong word. But I did find her, and the decisions that she made, intriguing. Plus, I really loved the beauty and rhythm of the language that Shelley uses.

As much as I, overall, enjoyed Matilda though, it wouldn’t be a book that I reccommend as an introduction to nineteenth century fiction. Shelley deals with big and serious issues in this novella – incest, depression and suicide – all of these are still taboo subjects (to different extents) now, never mind when Shelley wrote it in the early 1800s. However, I think anyone well-versed in nineteenth century literature, and with an interest to read more of the controversial texts which were suppressed at the time, would be interested in reading Shelley’s least well-known work.

Onto the discussion questions! (There will probably be spoilers ahead, so be warned.)

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