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
The relationship between Mary Shelley (1797-1851) and the mother she never knew Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 1797), author of the incendiary tract A Vindication of the Rights of Women, who died 10 days after her daughter's birth is explored with remarkable insight and perspicacity in this exhilarating dual biography from Gordon (Mistress Bradstreet). The book illustrates the similarities between mother and daughter by devoting alternating chapters to their lives. Both were raised in emotionally turbulent households (although Shelley's offered more intellectual stimulation); both had to leave home to find their identities as writers; and both lived as adults under the shadow of scandal Wollstonecraft for her outspoken feminism and marriage to liberal political philosopher William Godwin, a critic of matrimony, and Shelley for her role in the notorious Byron-Shelley literary circle. Gordon's perceptive reading of both women's published works illuminates their core ideas, including complementary critiques of patriarchy, and identifies the emotional fault lines caused by the drama in their lives. Her lucid prose and multifaceted appraisal of Wollstonecraft, Shelley, and their times make warm-blooded and fully fleshed-out people of writers who exist for readers today only as the literary works they left behind. Agent: Brettine Bloom, Kneerim, Williams, & Bloom.