Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark – reviewMuriel Spark's biography of Mary Shelley keeps its focus on the woman herself and refuses to be distracted by the celebrities in her life
Friday 5 April 2013
have always disliked the sort of biography which states 'X lay on the bed and watched the candle flickering on the roof beams' when there is no evidence X did so," states Muriel Spark in the introduction to her study of Mary Shelley, originally published in 1951 and reissued here in a revised version. Needing no such cheap tricks to plunge the reader into Shelley's overheated world, Spark treats her life and work separately. Sensible and clear-sighted, Spark is a quiet defender of the writer, whether picking apart the emotional and social pressures that weighed on her or taking elegant umbrage at Herbert Read's assault on Shelley's editing of her husband's poems. The book is wreathed with intrigue – "natural" children, simmering erotic tension, not to mention the story of Mary Diana Dods, who turned herself into Walter Sholto Douglas and ran off to France with Shelley's friend Isabel Robinson – yet Spark is never distracted from Shelley or the quest to show her as "the equal of, yet different from, the male of her times."