Luckily Mary Shelley continued to write after her first novel „Frankenstein“ was such a huge success. Today I would like to introduce to you one of her less known works „The Last Man“. The novel starts at the end of the 21st century and ends in the year 2100.
This futuristic story talks about the gradual extermination of the human race by a mysterious plague and a tragic love story. Mary Shelley is not just the Grandmother of Science Fiction, I’m sure she also was the first person to write a post apocalyptic novel. She basically invented the dystopian genre. Compared to this book, Frankenstein is a happy comedy.
“What is there in our nature that is for ever urging us on towards pain and misery?”
This novel is a slow burn. Like many Victorian authors, Shelly took her time, she did not rush her plot along and she backed it up with ideas and feelings. The book is intriguing, especially for people with an interest in the ideals and philosophies of Victorian times.
“It is a strange fact, but incontestable, that the philanthropist, who ardent in his desire to do good, who patient, reasonable and gentle, yet disdains to use other argument than truth, has less influence over men’s minds than he who, grasping and selfish, refuses not to adopt any means, nor awaken any passion, nor diffuse any falsehood, for the advancement of his cause.”
The book is partly a „roman a clef“ with the main protagonists modelled after her husband Percy Shelley and Lord Byron. I’m sure Mary Shelley felt pretty lonely after the deaths of so many people that played such a big role in her own life. She created a story about the deconstruction of the Romanticism movement, showing how the world view and optimism of an aesthete never really survives contact with the real world.
“I spread the whole earth out as a map before me. On no one spot of its surface could I put my finger and say, here is safety.”
This is a pretty sad story and it clearly reflected Mary Shelley’s own life. She also outlived all of her friends and her husband, four of her five children had died and was actually „The Last Relict“.
If you are a little brave and can tolerate the hopelessness and dispair of this novel, you will rewarded with beautiful language, interesting ideas and vivid melancholy pictures of a world that gets lonelier and emptier every day.
Mary Shelley is not just the Ur-Mother of Science Fiction with her novel „Frankenstein“ she is also the Ur-Mother of the apocalyptic novel. I bow my head in respect to Mary Shelley…
Here is a really interesting short BBC documentary on Mary Shelley’s „The Last Man“: