5

‘Maurice, or, The Fisher’s Cot’ by Mary Shelley ***

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.

9780140276770-uk-300I 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 🙂

4

Spooky Halloween Reads (Part One – Classics)

Halloween is merely one week away and what better way is there to get into the spooky mood than read some spooky books 🙂 In preparation, I have made a compilation of some of my favourite classic books to read during Halloween. Here are my choices:

1. The Complete Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe132314

“The unabridged Edgar Allan Poe contains all of Poe’s classic tales and most haunting poems – presented, for the first time, in the order he originally wrote them. This complete collection of Poe’s versatile genius lets you share his journeys into the wondrous and macabre that have entertained and fascinated readers for generations. Not a word has been deleted!”

the-turn-of-the-screw-and-other-stories 2. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

“A very young woman’s first job: governess for two weirdly beautiful, strangely distant,  oddly silent children, Miles and Flora, at a forlorn estate. An estate haunted by a  beckoning evil. Half-seen figures who glare from dark towers and dusty windows- silent,  foul phantoms who, day by day, night by night, come closer, ever closer. With growing  horror, the helpless governess realizes the fiendish creatures want the children, seeking  to corrupt their bodies, possess their minds, own their souls. But worse-much worse- the  governess discovers that Miles and Flora have no terror of the lurking evil. For they want  the walking dead as badly as the dead want them.”

3. Dracula by Bram Stokerdracula-cover

“When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client and his castle. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’. In the ensuing battle of wits between the sinister Count Dracula and a determined group of adversaries, Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing deeply into questions of human identity and sanity, and illuminating dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.”

frankenstein-cover 4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a  Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of  science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein.  Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation  upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts  but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented  by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a  campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.
 Frankenstein, an instant bestseller and an important ancestor of both the horror and  science fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound, disturbing questions about the very nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos: What does it mean to be human? What responsibilities do we have to each other? How far can we go in tampering with Nature? In our age, filled with news of organ donation genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever.”

5. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Lerouxgaston-leroux-1

“First published in French as a serial in 1909, “The Phantom of the Opera” is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine’s childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous ‘ghost’ of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux’s work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik’s past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.”

legend-of-sleepy-hollow6. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a story by Washington Irving written while he was living  in Birmingham, England. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is among the earliest examples of  American fiction still read today. The story is set circa 1790 in the Dutch settlement of  Tarry Town (based on Tarrytown, New York), in a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow. It  tells the story of Ichabod Crane, who is a lean, lanky, and extremely superstitious  schoolmaster from Connecticut, who competes with Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt,  the town rowdy, for the hand of 18-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and sole child  of a wealthy farmer, Baltus Van Tassel. As Crane leaves a party he attended at the Van  Tassel home on an autumn night, he is pursued by the Headless Horseman, who is supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper who had his head shot off by a stray cannonball during “some nameless battle” of the American Revolutionary War, and who “rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head.”

7. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson9780141389509

“Few Victorian mysteries are more haunting, sinister and profound than Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is when Mr. Utterson, a dry London lawyer, peruses the last will of his old friend Henry Jekyll that his suspicions are aroused. What is the relationship between upright, respectable Dr. Jekyll and the evil Edward Hyde? Who murdered the distinguished MP, Sir Danvers? So begins Stevenson’s spine-tingling horror story, the story of Dr. Jekyll’s infernal alter ego, and of a hunt throughout the nocturnal streets of London that culminates in some dreadful revelations.”

What are your favourite spooky classic reads? 🙂

1

‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley (July 2013)

The gorgeous Penguin Deluxe Edition

On the whole, I was very excited when asked if I wanted to read Frankenstein again, in order to try and support April’s A-Level reading.  Funnily enough, I first began the novel whilst I was studying for my own A-Levels, but it wasn’t part of my curriculum.  I enjoyed it so much the first time around that I read it again in 2011, and last week I jumped at the chance to become reacquainted with the novel.

To my delight, I found that I remembered an awful lot of the story, even with regard to the names and traits of the minor characters and the different narrative voices used throughout the novel.  In that respect, I believe that this is one of the most memorable books – and stories, for that matter – which I have ever read.

I find with each re-read that the different narrative voices which Shelley makes use of are engaging, and I love the way in which the first person perspective has been used throughout.  This adds to the story immensely, and means that we as readers can see the story from both sides – Frankenstein’s and his monster’s – as well as those affected by the trouble which is caused as a result of his creation.  It felt as though a lot of empathy and understanding had been built up on behalf of both parties.  Another element of the story, which is one of its definite strengths for me, is the way in which Shelley writes so believably from a male perspective.  She really does portray a wide and far-reaching understanding of the human psyche, and the wealth of emotions which she captures on the page are wonderfully realised.

Mary Shelley, author of ‘Frankenstein’

I love epistolatory novels, and this is the first which I remember really enjoying.  Whilst the novel is not told entirely through the medium of letters, they do provide rather a comfortable backbone to the story, and they set the tone and scenes marvellously.  The turns of phrase which Shelley weaves in are lovely, and her sentences are beautifully crafted.

“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

Her descriptions too are written with such deftness.  These elements serve only to make a lot of other books, even those from the same period, seem rather bland in comparison.  I love old literature, and am far more at home with a Bronte or Wilde story in my hand than with anything remotely postmodern, so personally I found the story quite an easy one to get into.  The delicious language sets each and every scene perfectly, and I adore the nightmare-like feel which the passages have, particularly around the time at which the monster is created.  I also love the references to poetry throughout.  To conclude, Frankenstein is a marvellous novel, and its status as a literary classic is certainly well-deserved from this reviewer’s perspective.