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Proserpine and Midas   By: (1797-1851)

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Two unpublished Mythological Dramas



Edited with Introduction




The editor came across the unpublished texts included in this volume as early as 1905. Perhaps he ought to apologize for delaying their appearance in print. The fact is he has long been afraid of overrating their intrinsic value. But as the great Shelley centenary year has come, perhaps this little monument of his wife's collaboration may take its modest place among the tributes which will be paid to his memory. For Mary Shelley's mythological dramas can at least claim to be the proper setting for some of the most beautiful lyrics of the poet, which so far have been read in undue isolation. And even as a literary sign of those times, as an example of that classical renaissance which the romantic period fostered, they may not be altogether negligible.

These biographical and literary points have been dealt with in an introduction for which the kindest help was long ago received from the late Dr. Garnett and the late Lord Abinger. Sir Walter Raleigh was also among the first to give both encouragement and guidance. My friends M. Emile Pons and Mr. Roger Ingpen have read the book in manuscript. The authorities of the Bodleian Library and of the Clarendon Press have been as generously helpful as is their well known wont. To all the editor wishes to record his acknowledgements and thanks.




'The compositions published in Mrs. Shelley's lifetime afford but an inadequate conception of the intense sensibility and mental vigour of this extraordinary woman.'

Thus wrote Dr. Garnett, in 1862 (Preface to his Relics of Shelley ). The words of praise may have sounded unexpectedly warm at that date. Perhaps the present volume will make the reader more willing to subscribe, or less inclined to demur.

Mary Godwin in her younger days certainly possessed a fair share of that nimbleness of invention which generally characterizes women of letters. Her favourite pastime as a child, she herself testifies, [Footnote: Preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein .] had been to write stories. And a dearer pleasure had been to use her own characteristic abstract and elongated way of putting it 'the following up trains of thought which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents'. All readers of Shelley's life remember how later on, as a girl of nineteen and a two years' wife she was present, 'a devout but nearly silent listener', at the long symposia held by her husband and Byron in Switzerland (June 1816), and how the pondering over 'German horrors', and a common resolve to perpetrate ghost stories of their own, led her to imagine that most unwomanly of all feminine romances, Frankenstein. The paradoxical effort was paradoxically successful, and, as publishers' lists aver to this day, Frankenstein's monster has turned out to be the hardest lived specimen of the 'raw head and bloody bones' school of romantic tales. So much, no doubt, to the credit of Mary Shelley. But more creditable, surely, is the fact that she was not tempted, as 'Monk' Lewis had been, to persevere in those lugubrious themes.

Although her publishers et pour cause insisted on styling her 'the author of Frankenstein', an entirely different vein appears in her later productions. Indeed, a quiet reserve of tone, a slow, sober, and sedate bearing, are henceforth characteristic of all her literary attitudes. It is almost a case of running from one to the other extreme. The force of style which even adverse critics acknowledged in Frankenstein was sometimes perilously akin to the most disputable kinds of romantic rant. But in the historical or society novels which followed, in the contributions which graced the 'Keepsakes' of the thirties, and even alas in the various prefaces and commentaries which accompanied the publication of so many poems of Shelley, his wife succumbed to an increasing habit of almost Victorian reticence and dignity... Continue reading book >>

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