[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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Introducing… The Inner Senshi Book Club!

Introduction

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. The current schedule for 2012 is as follows:

May: Samantha Lin
June: Samantha Rea
July: Meghan
August: Angel
September: Aimee

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.)

Aimee (Sailor Jupiter) is a prospective law student, hoping to conquer the world with her extensive knowledge of Harry Potter, Greek and Latin classics, YA literature, and adorkable fictional boys. Though she loves reading anything and everything, she primarily uses her books to meet complex, quirky characters and explore gorgeous, romantic locations. Her hobbies include doodling in notebooks, nerdy-fangirling, and reading to herself in (terrible) English accents. You can find her ramblings @amethysthx. She currently resides in Long Island, New York.

Angel (Sailor Venus) is an aspiring YA novelist/Nerdfighter and a fangirl of all things wonderful. She adores classical lit, romance and children’s literature. Her book choices will be eclectic and wacky at times, but there is always a theme worth discovering. The Favourites shelf in her bookcase is teeming with mermaids, Boy Masterpieces, zombies, cyborgs and spies. You can find her at Mermaid Vision Books and follow her @mermaidvisions. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Meghan (Sailor Mercury) is a full time student and overtime fangirl of tall, skinny men with accents. Though she largely reads YA, she also dabbles in classics and fantasy. Her favourite thing to do is pick apart books for feminist themes or the lack thereof. She places her books not in alphabetical order but based on which authors she thinks would get along. You can find her at Coffee and Wizards and follow her @MegTao. She lives in Windsor, Ontario.

Samantha L (Sailor Moon)’s paperwork for entrance to the loony bin gave the institution such a headache, they decided to pawn her off to the literary academics instead. She has since accepted her fate, and now sees her eventual PhD in Shakespeare as a stepping stone to becoming a professional fangirl. Her life ambition is to one day establish a Fandom University, where it is possible to obtain such degrees as a Bachelor of Science in Avoiding Victor Frankenstein’s Mistakes and Master of Arts in Improvement of the Mind by Extensive Reading. In the meantime, you can find her at All Things Literary and follow her @samanthalin. She currently lives in Durham, England.

Samantha R (Sailor Mars), also known to all and sundry as Sam, is a full time student and aspiring YA novelist. She is always willing to fangirl anything and everything, but has a particular fondness for delicious British men. She divides her reading time equally between nineteenth-century literature and YA, with occasional dabbles into the Modernist era and chick lit. The only organised areas of her bedroom are her bookshelves, which receive more love and attention and are kept more tidy than the rest of the room combined. You can find her at As Read by an Aspiring Receptionist and follow her @samanthaarea. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

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This month, our book choice is: Mary Shelley – Mathilda (1820)

Samantha L wants you to consider:
How relevant do you think this text will be in a century? Which aspects do you think will be valued most?

Samantha R is interested in knowing:
Did you have a favourite character in the book? If so, what was it about this character that drew you to them? Or in reverse, were there any characters that you particularly disliked, and why?

Meghan is wondering:
If you had to date one of the characters, which would you pick and why?

Angel would like you to think about:
How well does the writing style serve the story? How does it fail to uphold the narrative?

Aimee’ s question for you is:
What was your favorite or most memorable passage (if any) in the book? Why did it leave such an impression?

This month’s host, Samantha L, has a bonus question:
Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, considered to be one of the first modern feminists. In Mathilda, how effectively do you think Shelley deals with the issues of women, femininity, and feminism?

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We are all so excited to be bringing this book club to you all! These four girls are some of my absolute favourite people in the world and I’m so glad to be able to read and experience these books with them. I hope you’ll come back and check out all our posts later in the month, and if you want to read along with us you are more than welcome to! Just reply to any of our posts and let us know what you thought about that month’s book.