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Mary Shelley's Mathilda (1819): 200-Year Celebration

2019 marks 200 years since the composition of Mary Shelley's novella Mathilda (1819), which recounts the gradual withering away of a young woman named Mathilda after the death of her father, who, before his death, had sent a letter to her confessing his incestuous love for his own daughter. The story is presented as Mathilda's narration to Woodville, written right before she died after a long period of grief and solitude.

The story is one of Mary Shelley's finest, and exhibits sharp autobiographical tones that manifest the influence she received from her mother Mary Wollstonecraft (see 'The Fields of Fancy') and her father William Godwin. By the time the novella was published, both Percy Shelley and William Godwin had already passed away. However, despite its late publication, and setting aside possible autobiographical references in the work, Mary Shelley's Mathilda stands prominently as a Gothic story that presents more than a victimised female heroine. In her novella, Mary Shelley portrays a predicament of someone who grows up without a mother and stands in an ambivalent relationship to her own family and her place in the world. The theme of pain and control in society for a female character is particularly important, and shows how the personal and the political are inevitably entwined in the story without explicit political referencing.

It is crucial to acknowledge Mary Shelley as the writer of a wider variety of works that does not only include Frankenstein, and to explore the multifariousness of themes which infiltrate her writings. This is why today we celebrate 200 years of Mathilda's composition, and we hope that more works like her short stories and novels like Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), and Falkner (1837) (to name a few) receive more extended critical acclaim.

Follow this link to see the quotes we included from Mathilda in our 'Writer of the Month' page, which is dedicated to Mary Shelley.

A very interesting article on this anniversary can be found at

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