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Nora Crook, gen. ed. Mary Shelley’s Literary Lives and Other Writings. 4 vols. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2002. ISBN: 1851967168. Price: £350.00 /US$595.

  • Charles E. Robinson

…plus d’informations

  • Charles E. Robinson
    University of Delaware

Corps de l’article

Nora Crook has been labouring in the Mary and Percy Shelley fields for the past twenty years (her Shelley’s Venomed Melody appeared in 1986), and each passing year and decade gives us more to celebrate in her research and writings and editing. In 1996, she served as general editor of the indispensable Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, the 8-volume Pickering and Chatto edition that brought a scholarly accessibility and clarity to Mary Shelley’s major works. Volume 1 of that edition, following a lengthy and informative introduction by Betty T. Bennett (who served as consulting editor), presented the 1818 text of Frankenstein, masterly edited by Crook herself. Crook and Bennett assembled a number of accomplished editors for the 1996 Works—and Crook has assembled an equally talented group of editors for this supplementary 4-volume Mary Shelley’s Literary Lives and Other Writings (2002).

Pickering and Chatto and Crook and Company are to be complimented for making these editions useful: among other good things, they provide a comprehensive proper name and title index to the concluding volume of both sets—and they currently include the Novels and Selected Works in the electronic database of “Past Masters,” where more sophisticated searching is possible. (Consult http://www.nlx.com/pstm/pstmclww.htm for a list [and individual/institutional pricing schedules] of the Women Writers Collection available through Past Masters.) I have been recently been told by Pickering and Chatto that Mary Shelley’s Literary Lives and Other Writings will also soon be a part of Past Masters. For those unfamiliar with the contents of this second 4-volume set, I outline below the most important texts to be consulted there.

Volume 1 of this edition begins with Crook’s general introduction, which remarks on the extraordinary number of biographies that make up these four volumes. Volumes 1-3, in fact, are all biographies: the first scholarly reprinting of Mary Shelley’s 1835-1839 contributions to Dionysius Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopædia (Literary Lives), which are prefaced by Crook’s very informative essay on these biographies of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, and French writers (see I: xix-xxxii). These more than 60 biographies of writers as diverse as Ficino, Calderon, and Pascal were written later in Mary Shelley’s life, but they also draw our attention to the early stages of her career when she frequently employed mottoes and quotations from continental texts in many of her works.

The Italian lives in this Crook edition were edited by Tilar J. Mazzeo (volume 1); the Spanish and Portuguese, by Lisa Vargo (volume 2); and the French, by Clarissa Campbell Orr (volume 3 but also the end of volume 2—the reader is reminded that the introduction to the French lives is to be found in volume 2). Each of these editors provides an introduction to the national biographies—as Crook explains, each set of Lives is introduced with “details of composition history, publication, contemporary reception, context and significance, followed by notes on individual lives” (1: xxxiii). These introductions also inform us about Mary Shelley’s sources for these biographies, her difficulties gathering materials and meeting deadlines, and the translations she was forced to make as she brought the works to press—these introductions and accompanying notes also offer the best place to determine just which of the Lardner “Lives” were in fact written by Mary Shelley.

Although few students of Mary Shelley will read all of these three volumes, many can take advantage of the comprehensive index to discover her judgments on various continental writers—and to discover at least some of Mary Shelley’s “OPINIONS, REFLECTIONS AND THEMES” that are listed in the index. For example, “Italy compared to France and England” takes the reader to 1: 267 (the life of Alfieri), where Mary Shelley reveals her biases against the French and for the Italians. The two columns of this part of index are inadequate to open up these hundreds of pages of biography, but when this 4-volume Pickering and Chatto edition becomes part of Past Masters, researchers can create their own index to these biographies and discover the aesthetic and political and social principles that governed Mary Shelley’s judgments about other writers.

The most exciting volume in this edition is the fourth, which begins with Pamela Clemit’s introduction to (15 pp.) and edition of (111 pp.) of Mary Shelley’s unpublished and unfinished “Life of William Godwin,” a fragmentary text that we all know about but about which most of us know little. Clemit gives us a coherent version of what is ultimately over 250 leaves and scraps of paper in the hands of William Godwin and Mary Shelley that are to be found in the Abinger deposits in the Bodleian Library. Readers are reminded that portions of what might have been contained in this Memoir need to be consulted in Clemit’s Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin (Pickering, 1992)—and that a different versioning of the entire text may be consulted in Judith Barbour’s electronic edition of “Life of William Godwin” at http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/godwin.

The rest of volume 4, edited by A. A. Markley, offers in some ways the most interesting and challenging of the texts presented here. We first encounter “clean reading texts” of Mary Shelley’s extant poetry, including “The Choice,” with short essays explaining attributions and identifying copy texts. It is especially informative to have all these poems, with their variants, assembled together for study. Next comes a section on Mary Shelley’s short fiction, most of which is not represented in this edition, except for three texts not printed in Robinson’s Tales and Stories (1976): a new edition of the recently discovered “Maurice, or the Fisher’s Cot” (written 1820); a first reprinting of “Lacy de Vere,” a tale in the Forget-Me-Not for 1827 that was likely written by Mary Shelley; and the fragmentary “Cecil,” purported to be “the last known portion of original fiction to be undertaken by Mary Shelley,” with “a contemporary Anglo-German domestic setting” (4: xlvi) Following the publication of this edition, Nora Crook discovered that “Cecil” was not an original composition but rather a translation of the opening of a once-admired German novel, Cecil (Berlin, 1843), by Ida, Gräfin von Hahn-Hahn (1805-80). To Crook’s credit, she published a correction to her own edition in the “Comment” section of TLS (6 June 2003), which TLS titled “Germanizing in Chester Square: Mary Shelley, Cecil, and Ida von Hahn-Hahn.” Those who own these four Pickering and Chatto volumes need to annotate the “Cecil” fragment with this corrected information; those who wish to prevent future errors caused by library copies of these four volumes might wish to lay in a short note that corrects the error and references this review and/or the correction in TLS.

Following the fiction section are the six non-fiction items, including four fragments: “Theseus” (c. 1814-1816), not previously published; “Cyrus” (c. 1814-1816 in this edition; but possibly 1817 and possibly a doubtful attribution, according to a private email from Nora Crook in May 2006); “Samuel” (c. 1818-1820), not previously published; and “Life of Shelley” (1823). This “Life,” although only seven pages in this edition, is must reading for those who have not encountered it elsewhere, and it ennobles both Shelleys: Percy is said to have “acted from the fixed principle of endeavouring to benifit [sic] & improve each person with whom he had communication”; and Mary thinks her “calling is high. I am to justify His ways; I am to make him beloved to all posterity. My goal is fixed—the prize waves in the air and I am ready for the course….I am a priestess—dedicated to his glorification by my sufferings—the bride of the dead—My dayly sacrifize is brought to his temple & under the shadow of his memory I watch each sun to its decline” (4: 225, 226). If the reader is offended by such a personal response in what purports to be the life of another, the reader should consult the Introduction and the equally informative footnotes to discover that that these personal reflections come from a singleton (folio 114, recto and verso) of this “Life” (made up of two reconstructed bifolia and two singletons: six leaves with eleven sides of manuscript), a singleton that actually might have been intended for some other purpose. Knowing these and other manuscript particulars about the “Life of Shelley” and about the other texts here printed from manuscript can only enrich and deepen our understanding of these texts. Again, Pickering and Chatto and Crook and Company are to be complimented for giving space for such scholarly details.

Of the other two texts in this section, “The Necessity of a Belief in the Heathen Mythology to a Christian” is read as a possible companion piece to P. B. Shelley’s fragmentary “On Polytheism,” both texts offering the Shelleys’ response in early 1820 to reading and conversation that involved Spinoza and the Bible. The other text is “Modern Italian Romances,” an essay from the November and December 1838 Monthly Chronicle that Emily Sunstein proposed was written by Mary Shelley.

The next section of volume 4 provides the texts of four translations: portions of Helen Maria Williams’ “Correspondence, Maxims and Reflections of Louis XVI” (1816, the year based on the watermark on the paper and on the “Translate” in Mary Shelley’s 1816 Journal); the Latin “Cupid and Psyche” (1817); the Italian “Relation of the Death of the Family of the Cenci” (1819); and, published for the first time, “Inez de Medina” (late 1840s), two extant chapters from a novel in Italian by Laura Tighe Galloni d’Istria. The translation from the German novel, Cecil, also belongs here. Mary Shelley’s facility in languages is very much in evidence in these texts.

The final section in volume 4 is “Part-Authored and Attributed Writings,” reserved for texts “where evidence for Mary Shelley’s authorship is strong but falls short of the totally conclusive, or where she is definitely a contributor to a text, but the extent and nature of her contribution is uncertain” (4: lxxi). Just as important as the texts included here is a list of texts to be excluded from Mary Shelley’s canon: (1) verse translations in the Bijou that were signed “M.S.,” these apparently authored by Margaret Scott, latter Gatty; (2) four New Monthly Magazine articles that had been attributed to Mary Shelley—namely, “Rome in the First and Nineteenth Centuries,” probably written by Thomas Medwin; “Byron and Shelley on the Character of Hamlet,” probably written by Medwin; and two “Living Literary Characters” that “are not in her style at all”; (3) “Monody on the Death of William Godwin,” apparently sent to Mary Shelley by an unknown author; (4) the miscellaneous pieces of “The Magician of Vicenza,” the “Review of Moore’s Life of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and “Fame.” Those pursuing Mary Shelley attributions are urged to consult the other listed titles that are “very doubtful” (see 4: lxxi-lxxii).

The most controversial of the items printed in this final section is the partially anti-Semitic “History of the Jews,” an untitled fragment entirely in the hand of Mary Shelley that Jane Blumberg argued was authored by Mary Shelley in 1814-15 but that others have argued was Mary Shelley’s translation from a yet unidentified French anti-clerical work, “undertaken either as a learning exercise before 1812 or for some other purpose c. 1815” (4: lxxii). Markley, as volume editor, after considering various kinds of evidence, comes out on the side of Mary and Percy co-authoring this text. Be that as it may, others will continue to look for an original French text that Mary Shelley may have translated as “History of the Jews.”

As in the case of the works of all prolific authors, new Mary Shelley discoveries will continue to be made by scholars in their research; my own participation in the Mary Shelley industry resulted, in part, by an attempt to determine who wrote “Byron and Shelley on the Character of Hamlet.” Although I never found the answer (and wondered at the time if Medwin was in fact the author), my pursuit led me to discover a new Mary Shelley text in Cyrus Redding’s Yesterday and To-day (1863), a reminiscence in which he printed “Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman.” The discovery of that narrative led to my Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories in 1976 and, eventually in 2006, to this review of a scholarly edition that will encourage and make possible new attributions and corrections to the canon of Mary Shelley. Once again, Pickering and Chatto and Crook and Company should be proud of what they have done for the future of Mary Shelley scholarship.