cover image Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle

Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle

Janet Todd, . . Counterpoint, $26 (297pp) ISBN 978-1-58243-339-4

It is little surprise that there has been no major biography of Fanny Wollstonecraft—first daughter, by an American lover, of brilliant feminist theorist Mary Wollstonecraft and elder half-sister of Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Fanny produced no books, lived in the shadow of others and found her feelings for Percy Bysshe Shelley ignored, as the poet favored, then married, Mary. Fanny spent a great deal of time as a go-between, helping smooth over the endless sexual and social intrigues of the Shelley and Byron circle. Realizing none of her own dreams, she committed suicide in 1816 at the age of 22. There are moments of terrific insight, such as Mary's odd, confused reaction to Fanny's death and her transforming Fanny into the ill-fated servant girl Justine in Frankenstein, who is unjustly accused of killing a child. Todd has rescued Fanny from ill-deserved obscurity, yet the biography is more of a meditation on the role of all of the women in Byron and Shelley's circle, and its power lies in Todd's soundly and generously feminist reimagining of these women's lives. Not only a splendid work of feminist history, this is an important addition to late 18th- and early 19-century literary criticism. (Oct.)