Anyway, The Last Man …
In my file on the book I have fifteen pages (stapled) of notes I typed when I read the novel back in 1997. My custom then was to read 100 pages of some Shelley-subject in the morning (at a local coffee shop), then go home and type notes on what I’d read. Thank goodness—because now, nearly two decades later, I don’t remember much about the book.
But as I look now at my notes, I’m reminded that there is a bit of a frame story involved. In the Introduction to the first volume (it was the custom then to publish novels in two or three volumes), the “author” says that she visited Naples in 1818. Mary Shelley herself also did that (the same year, lingering on until 1819). The narrator says that on December 8, 1818, my companion and I crossed the Bay to visit the antiquities which are scattered on the shores of Baiae [Baia]. We know that Mary and Bysshe—on the same day in the same year—visited these same sites in the same fashion. (They lie about forty-five miles northwest of Naples on Italy’s southwestern shore.)
I don’t want to slog through Mary’s text and point out all the autobiographical aspects—few things annoy novelists (and poets) (and readers) more than this sort of thing. But I do want to reaffirm a point I’ve made earlier: Each of Mary’s novels, as imaginative and as original as it could be, was a singular tree rooted deeply in her own experience. Her reading, research, travels, gains and losses, hopes and disappointments—all composed the soil that nourished the mysterious, tangled wood of her fiction.
Anyway, on this sight- and site-seeing excursion (in the novel) the author tells us that in a cavern (to which they subsequently often returned) she and her companion found items on which appeared written characters … in a variety of languages. The author subsequently translated and organized these texts, arranging them into the story that is The Last Man.
Our narrator is a shepherd boy named Lionel. He has a sister, Perdita (whose looks are remarkably like those of Mary herself!). Recall that Perdita is also the name of a principal character in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, a character who her royal father believes is not his child but the offspring of his wife and a lover. Accordingly, her father orders her to be killed—then relents and settles on abandoning her in the wilderness to die. Much ensues before their emotional reunion, many years later.
Is this name relevant? We’ll see!
In the second chapter we learn that it is the year 2073, and England now has its last king. When he dies, the queen increases her preparation of her son, Adrian, to take over. (And Adrian’s physical description matches that of Bysshe Shelley.) Adrian befriends Perdita and Lionel. They hang out, have young-people fun.
Then … the darkness begins.
|the copy I read|