But in truth, neither the lonely meditations of the hermit nor the turmulos raptures of the reveller, are capable of satisfying man’s heart. From the one we gather unquiet speculation, from the other satiety. The mind flags beneath the weight of thought, and droops in the heartless intercourse of those whose sole aim is amusement. There is no fruition in their vacant kindness, and sharp rocks lurk beneath the smiling ripples of these shallow waters.
Mary Shelley, The Last Man
Yes, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. But it wasn’t the only book she wrote. Frankenstein is actually one of my favourite books ever, which I mentioned in my My Top 7 Books post, but The Last Man should definitely not be overlooked.
The Last Man is great and largely underappreciated, and its Goodreads rating is horrible. Most people explain their dislike for this book in terms of “it’s not SciFi enough”. And that’s quite true. Yes, the topic is the end of humanity, but in a way it also isn’t. When Mary Shelley wrote it, she left like she was the last of her “kind”, the last Romantic who was still alive. She was the only one to witness the end of an era. She was the last man.
The main characters in The Last Man are fictional versions of Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron. A large part of the book deals with their ideals and the different ways they perceived the world. If you are interested in Romanticism, it’s definitely a book you should read. Not to mention Mary Shelley’s wonderful, poetic language and vivid imagery. She was a truly great author. And a perceptive one.
Mary Shelley looked up to the idealism of Percy Shelley, which can be noticed in her novel. However, she herself seems to have been more of a realist, which is why I chose this particular quote to share with you. In this paragraph, Mary Shelley concludes that a person cannot live only on idealism and meditation, as she puts it. People need to experience things, live their lives to the fullest. But at the same time, those who only live for small pleasures remain shallow as well. People are complex, and they need both. Interestingly, this quote also seems to unite the worldviews of Percy Shelley and Lord Byron.
To be honest, no one can be certain what these authors truly thought of each other, but it’s interesting to speculate and this book offers an insight into Mary Shelley’s mind, even though it may be wrong to entirely accept fiction as fact. In any case, I felt I should defend this book from its negative reviews and at least briefly put in its rightful perspective. I just have a lot of love for the Romantics and I wish to spread it! 🙂