- Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote by Stephanie Hemphill
Mary Shelley’s well-documented life was marked by passion, scandal, travel, and loss. Her devotion to the married Percy Bysshe Shelley is legendary; when she ran away with him, she endured estrangement from her beloved father as well as repeated dalliances on her lover’s part while her own heart remained faithful. In this poetic biography, Hemphill adheres faithfully to the events of the lives of the famous pair, relating their travels, Mary’s suspicions of Percy’s unfaithfulness and her jealousy toward her half-sister, who traveled with them, the births of their four children and deaths of three, the writing and revisions of Frankenstein and Mary’s other novels, the couple’s attempts to forge intellectual community and outrun scandal, the exploits of Byron, and finally, the death and funeral of Mary’s beloved Shelley—all in under a decade. Unfortunately, only a few of the individual poems in this verse novel, written in a first-person impression of Mary’s voice, come close to conveying any sort of emotion; instead, Mary relates her feelings in affectless, workmanlike sentences with no discernible reason for the line breaks. For the most part, the language is stiff and halting, with intrusive and ill-fitting similes and diction [End Page 156] that is difficult to resolve even into readable prose, let alone evocative strains of poetry. The wooden, prosaic tone of the poetry is particularly disappointing in contrast with Mary Shelley’s vivid and emotional writing. Hemphill’s faithfulness to Shelley’s life is the work’s saving grace, as it provides readers a focused way to imagine how difficult living under the principles of free love was for Mary, as well as the compromises culture required of a woman of genius during the time period. End matter includes an author’s note, a character list, a bibliography of Mary Shelley’s writing, and suggestions for further reading.