While I am always very excited to acquire new books which I’ve encountered or heard about somewhere before, I strongly believe it is those unknown and unexpected ones that tend to be the most interesting findings. Maurice, or, The Fisher’s Cot by Mary Shelley is one such book I accidentally happened to stumble upon in one of my forays in my favourite second-hand bookshop.
I was completely unaware of the existence of this short novella (I guess it can be described as such?) and you can only imagine my surprise and subsequent excitement when I saw it lying on the shelf. Of course, I immediately purchased it and brought it home with me. Maurice is a story that wasn’t discovered until as late as 1997 and published in 1999, when Cristina Dazzi found the manuscript in an old box in Italy. The story was dedicated “To Laurette from her friend Mrs Shelley”.
The particular Penguin edition I have starts with a very extensive introduction (it’s even longer than the story itself!) by Claire Tomalin, in which many different themes are tackled, but all serve in a better understanding of the plot as well as the story behind the creation of this book. The Introduction includes information about Shelley’s personal life, such as her romantic involvement with Percy Bysshe Shelley and how she came to be acquainted with the family in Italy where this manuscript was discovered. I had studied some of Percy Shelley’s poems in an English Poetry course at university, but I was never much informed about his personal affairs, and reading about the turbulent lives of all these people is certainly rather baffling for me.
Mary Shelley’s life was filled with drama and unfortunate situations, something that is well reflected in Maurice, which was written in 1820, merely two years after Shelley’s most well-known work, Frankenstein. Dedicated to Laurette, the eleven-year-old daughter of Lady Mountcashell, a friend of Mary Shelley’s, Maurice tells the story of a little boy who had been stolen from his parents when still a baby and is now struggling through life. His chance encounter with a wandering stranger will change his life forever. Since it is a very short story, I feel that revealing any more information about its plot might spoil it.
The story is divided into three parts, each one focusing on a different part of the plot. As it is a children’s story, the writing style may also seem rather childish in some parts, but it is very well-written nevertheless. As far as the plot is concerned, I’m afraid I didn’t find it as compelling or fascinating as I hoped I would, coming from the authoress of Frankenstein. Also, the introduction is very informative but I found that it tired me in certain parts, since I, as a plain reader, felt that some of the information included may have been generally interesting, but didn’t really offer much in terms of this specific book.
Still, I am very glad I stumbled upon this little book, because, even if it’s not a masterpiece, it still is a great discovery not many people are aware of.
Have you read this book? What did you think about it? Please, let me know in the comments below 🙂