Romantic Outlaws

Romantic Outlaws

The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley

Book - 2015
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NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER * NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE SEATTLE TIMES

This groundbreaking dual biography brings to life a pioneering English feminist and the daughter she never knew. Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley have each been the subject of numerous biographies, yet no one has ever examined their lives in one book--until now. In Romantic Outlaws, Charlotte Gordon reunites the trailblazing author who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the Romantic visionary who gave the world Frankenstein --two courageous women who should have shared their lives, but instead shared a powerful literary and feminist legacy.
 
In 1797, less than two weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft died, and a remarkable life spent pushing against the boundaries of society's expectations for women came to an end. But another was just beginning. Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary was to follow a similarly audacious path. Both women had passionate relationships with several men, bore children out of wedlock, and chose to live in exile outside their native country. Each in her own time fought against the injustices women faced and wrote books that changed literary history.
 
The private lives of both Marys were nothing less than the stuff of great Romantic drama, providing fabulous material for Charlotte Gordon, an accomplished historian and a gifted storyteller. Taking readers on a vivid journey across revolutionary France and Victorian England, she seamlessly interweaves the lives of her two protagonists in alternating chapters, creating a book that reads like a richly textured historical novel. Gordon also paints unforgettable portraits of the men in their lives, including the mercurial genius Percy Shelley, the unbridled libertine Lord Byron, and the brilliant radical William Godwin.
 
"Brave, passionate, and visionary, they broke almost every rule there was to break," Gordon writes of Wollstonecraft and Shelley. A truly revelatory biography, Romantic Outlaws reveals the defiant, creative lives of this daring mother-daughter pair who refused to be confined by the rigid conventions of their era.

Praise for Romantic Outlaws
 
"[An] impassioned dual biography . . . Gordon, alternating between the two chapter by chapter, binds their lives into a fascinating whole. She shows, in vivid detail, how mother influenced daughter, and how the daughter's struggles mirrored the mother's." -- The Boston Globe
 
"Written with the galloping pace of a skilled novel peopled with fascinating characters . . . these women live on in its pages. . . . Thorough and irresistible." --The Seattle Times
 
"Gordon unfolds the two stories in tandem, deftly balancing the gossipy aspects of her subjects' lives with their serious intellectual concerns." -- The New Yorker
 
"[A] thoughtful, intelligent and deeply felt book . . . Gordon has written a book about two women, a mother and her daughter, who changed not only the way we think, but the way we are." -- The Sunday Times (London)
 
"A most welcome deeper take on the women who scandalized Victorian England--and whose stories continue to resonate today." -- Vogue
 
"By linking these two lives, Ms. Gordon's biography stretches over a fascinating era in history, characterized by great flux in political and cultural thinking and involving some of the main figures in English literary and philosophical history." --The Wall Street Journal
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2015]
Edition: First U.S. edition
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9781400068425
Branch Call Number: 828.609 GOR

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As a fan of biographies, I was thrilled to discover this book that details both the lives of eighteenth century writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights Mary Wollstonecraft, and her daughter Mary Shelley, author of the classic novel Frankenstein. Romantic Outlaws reads like a gripping historical fiction as the remarkable storyteller and historian, Charlotte Gordon, examines both of the lives of these incredibly influential literary voices. Weaving the lives of these two women in alternating chapters, the reader is provided with a window into the social and political atmosphere of Western Europe during the late eighteenth century as Mary Wollstonecraft experiences both the glory and the terror of the French Revolution, while struggling to promote the equality of the sexes. Gordon simultaneously explores the life of Wollstonecraft’s daughter, Mary, focusing on the romantic relationship between Mary and the great Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Gordon presents the reader with the lives of these women who paved the way for the future of feminism, as the themes that are present in the work of both women are still highly relevant in today’s society where women still struggle for equal representation socially, politically, and economically. This was a riveting read! (Submitted by Sarah)

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Brontina66
Nov 11, 2018

This is one of the best biographies I have read in a long time. Actually, it is a double biography, because the chapters alternate between Mary Shelley's life and her mother's, Mary Wollstonecraft. Beside being extremely well researched, this book illustrates the profound influence of Wollstonecraft on her daughter, her beliefs, her life and her work. I read it while preparing a lecture on Frankenstein and am very happy I did, because it's really hard to appreciate Mary Shelley without being aware of her mother's works and philosophy. The book is not all "intellectual," however. There are several sections devoted to everyday life that make it even more charming and real. For example, there are the notes that Wollstonecraft sent Godwin telling how what to give little Fanny to eat (not too much pudding!). It's a book for everyone interested not just in Mary Shelley but also in her family - her parents, her husband, her stepsister - and in the time when she lived and the hypocrite moral conventions that she defied.

v
vickmeister
Aug 14, 2017

The riveting tale of two extraordinary women who led remarkable lives, impacting literature and sociology in ways that resonate even more today than during their own respective time periods. Well-written in a style both honest and sympathetic, delving deep to challenge old myths and deliver current information. I found the device of alternating chapters between the two women a bit confusing at times, as both women are named Mary, but it was an interesting way to see the parallels between the lives of the two women who never really knew each other, and how similar traumas impacted their literary outputs. A lot to digest and ponder, with the French Revolution, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and others all playing their parts in shaping who these women became and the philosophies they developed about marriage, religion, the rights of women and the ethics of man. As someone who enjoys historical biographies and memoirs that walk along the darker edges of life, I found that this book delivered on both counts.

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JANET FLAPAN
Jul 24, 2017

This book is an in-depth look at the lives of both mother and daughter. I found it enthralling and a little depressing as their legacies and accomplishments were almost lost and still are not widely known.

Megan_B_ Jul 18, 2017

This is a well-written biography that goes back and forth between mother and daughter showing their struggles and triumphs and makes them real people instead of just names in textbooks. They were women who felt emotion very strongly and did the things they wanted to do despite the people in their lives trying to make them live conventional lives. Wollstonecraft and Shelley were anything but conventional. From this biography, we learn that Wollstonecraft was actually at the forefront of the Romantic Movement, which her daughter and son-in-law would give voice to in their writing.

k
karin66
Apr 26, 2016

What an amazing journey both these women were on and what an awesome piece of work this biographer did.

This biography reads much like a novel, often leaving cliffhangers that made me want to keep going.

The trials and tribulations and reality that these women endured, and oh so much more, it often lead me stricken, with emotions blurred into one another.

This type of literature is very much outside my norm but I am better for reading it. Although these women were cast aside in their time, and for well over one hundred years (more in the case of Wollstonecraft), it is incredibly satisfying knowing their works are recognized, and studied today.

I highly recommend it, I doubt you'll be disappointed.

r
rpavlacic
Mar 26, 2016

Well written biographies of a mother and daughter who were feminists when feminism definitely wasn't cool. I found the book to be too overly detailed, however - it could have stood a hair cut of about a hundred or so pages (from five hundred plus) and still have gotten its point across.

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ownedbydoxies
Dec 01, 2015

An incredibly well-written biography of mother and daughter, which because of the skill of the writer is easily followed and intensely gripping, when it very well might have been confusing due to the amount of detail and similarities in name and circumstances. Great job!

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