To mark the bicentenary of Frankenstein, this new biography seeks to build a more nuanced portrait of Mary Shelley, particularly her early years and the formative experiences that influenced her authorship of the sui generis novel.
The historical Mary Shelley is still here (1797-1851), along with all the remarkable incidents and associations, including her relationship with Percy Shelley, her friendship with Lord Byron and her creation of that most famous gothic tale 200 years ago. But the ground on which she stands, the very apartments in which she lived, are freshly illuminated, newly imagined, helping us draw closer to this fascinating but elusive writer ... this is not simply a biography; it is, as the title tells us, a record of Sampson’s search for Shelley—a point she reminds us of by using questions like bread crumbs, steering us along the path of discovery ... if there is a lesson here, it is that the biographer must rely on both. It is not enough to supply us with a historical figure’s street address, the biographer must re-create the street, the house and the rooms of that house so that we can encounter a living being.
How she came to write such a masterpiece is the question at the heart of Fiona Sampson’s sensitive, probing biography. One answer is that she was deeply serious and highly intelligent ... Another answer Sampson gives to the question of how Mary came to write Frankenstein is because she was a woman. She knew, as no man can, what it means to bring forth new life and to be responsible for its physical make-up, as Dr Frankenstein is for his 'creature' ... If we get another literary biography in 2018 as astute and feelingful as this one, we shall be lucky.