Friday, November 09, 2007

Poor Fanny Wollstonecraft

Book cover: Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle

This review, Withering in the Shadow of Genius by Rachel Hartigan Shea in the Washington Post's Book World (November 6, 2007), really caught my attention. The biography reviewed is Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle by Janet Todd. I'm intrigued that Todd could write a biography of someone dead so young and so undocumented, but I wonder if it will be too depressing to bear. Here's how the reviewer, Shea, starts off:

How many deaths can be laid at Percy Bysshe Shelley's door? Possibly his own, along with those of the two men who drowned with him when their yacht sank off the Italian coast. But before that, there was his young wife, Harriet, who committed suicide after he abandoned her. And if one is feeling censorious (and one is), most of his children with his second wife, "Frankenstein" creator Mary Shelley: Three of them died by the age of 3 after needless travel made at his poetical whim.

Now, with "Death and the Maidens," English scholar Janet Todd is here to remind us of one more casualty of Shelley's unconventional ways: Fanny Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's half sister. "A small, tragic figure," Fanny killed herself at the age of 22. She left little behind: a suicide note with her name ripped off, some letters. Todd constructed her biography from the lives of those around her. Fanny's story, she writes, "must be a group story, a narrative of one of the first families of Romanticism."

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