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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.[Notice]

  • Charles E. Robinson

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  • Charles E. Robinson
    University of Delaware

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 …