Veronica Bennett reimagines the life of Mary Shelley, author of the novel Frankenstein, in her novel AngelMonster. It is 1814 and Mary is a smart but dreamy 16 year old. She and her sister, Jane, often imagine finding true love with a poet because as Mary remarks, “a poet is the only acceptable sort of lover these days.”
Jane and I had often discussed the possibility of falling in love with a poet. If poetry was any measure of a man, we had observed, everything we longed for in a lover – romance, desire, spirit, soul – was clearly contained in it.
Into Mary’s life (well, her father’s bookshop) walks Percy Shelley. Not yet the super-star poet he was to become he is nevertheless known as someone to watch and certainly meets Mary’s criteria for a lover. And lovers they become, even though Shelley is already (at the tender age of 20) married with children.
AngelMonster is a thoroughly modern tale. It’s kind of like reading a memoir from a current celebrity. It drops names ( Lord Byron and Polidori are companions of Shelley’s) and is full of dalliances and intrigues and twisted love triangles. Young readers, especially those who dismiss poetry and classic fiction as boring, might be intrigued by the flesh and blood people who actually lived and wrote these works that have endured.
Mary herself is an interesting character. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was one of the first feminists and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. (Wollstonecraft died a few days after Mary was born.) Her father was the writer and political journalist, William Godwin. Mary herself is clearly intelligent, but youth makes her romantic and dreamy. Still, she wrote Frankenstein when she was just 21. As Bennett writes her, she is young but determined. Her affair with Percy is ill-advised, but she loves him and sticks with him even when he doesn’t deserve it. She is a thoroughly modern creation.
I think AngelMonster would be a great companion to a young adult’s study of the works of Byron, and both Percy and Mary Shelley.