Review: Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon

I received a copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

outlawsTitle: Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter Mary Shelley

Author: Charlotte Gordon

Published: April 28, 2015

Publisher: Random House

Pages: 599

Source: eARC through Netgalley

Rating: 5/5

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.

What an amazing find on Netgalley as well as an awe-inspiring read. Charlotte Gordon has given voice to these amazing women who were ahead of their time. I didn’t know much about these women to begin with besides that Wollstonecraft was a feminist and we learned a little bit about her in school. Then Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein which I haven’t had the chance to read yet but I want too. So delving into this whole tome of a book was daunting for me to begin with but Gordon sweeps you away and I finished it all in one very long day.

Gordon starts off with an introduction into how the book is broken up. Instead of focusing on each woman in each chapter she has spaced it out that each woman has their own chapter and they overlay with one another in the sense that what is happening to Wollstonecraft influenced her daughter, Shelley. Gordon has stated that not many biographers of each women have looked at the impact of Wollstonecraft on her daughter, Shelley and that a lot of what Wollstonecraft wrote influenced her in life. Sadly, Wollstonecraft died of childbed fever 10 days after Shelley was born and so all Shelley had were her mother’s books and her cold and somewhat hypocritical father. This is a very intense look at both of their lives and how being a woman in the 1700 and 1800s was harsh and what they did to change it.

Gordon takes you chapter by chapter into their lives and its amazing what these women did. They hated the restrictions put on women during the Victorian era and the French Revolution and so they fought to change them by writing. They each wrote with a passion and were intellectual thinkers. I think if I had to travel back in time and got the chance to talk to them they would be beyond my understanding. Though Gordon  makes it really easy to follow and to understand both of these women and their books. There was heartbreak, loss, prejudiced, harassment, social outcast, exiled, sexual encounters, depression and suicide that affected both of these women and Gordon doesn’t shy away from any of it. It was sometimes hard to read because as a woman we have triumphed and overcame so much since then. We are still some ways away to being regarded as equal to man in some aspects but what both Mary’s went through to just achieve a little recognition was heartbreaking. It made me want to go back in time and tell both of them that they started something wonderful and that women have finally gained some freedoms that they were writing about.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading about two amazing women who were way ahead of their time and who fought for women’s rights before anyone else. It’s a little long (at around 600 pages) but I couldn’t put it down. I needed to know what happened next and how the Mary’s preserve through harsh criticism and what being a woman was all about.



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