Book summary: Mathilda

1959 BY MARY SHELLEY

Mathilda, or Matilda, is the second novel of Mary Shelley, written between August 1819 and February 1820. It deals with common Romantic themes of incest and suicide. Narrating from her deathbed, Matilda tells the story of her unnamed father’s confession of incestuous love for her, followed by his suicide by drowning; her relationship with a gifted young poet called Woodville fails to reverse Matilda’s emotional withdrawal or prevent her lonely death. The act of writing this short novel distracted Mary Shelley from her grief after the deaths of her one-year-old daughter Clara at Venice in September 1818 and her three-year-old son William in June 1819 in Rome. These losses plunged Mary Shelley into a depression that distanced her emotionally and sexually from Percy Shelley and left her, as he put it, ”on the hearth of pale despair”.

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