We begin to look at Mary's post-Frankenstein fiction.
We’ve looked—much earlier in this account—at Mary’s early writing: Frankenstein (1818) and her anonymous travel book about her 1814 elopement with Bysshe (History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, 1817). I’ve written, as well, about her dramas, her children’s story discovered and published long after her death (Maurice, or The Fisher’s Cot, 1820; published in 1998), and her first post-Frankenstein novel, Valperga, Or The Life of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1823).
But one of her most startling novels, published in 1826, was The Last Man. (It was originally published semi-anonymously: By the Author of Frankenstein, it says on the original title page.
Scholars speculate that Mary might have had the idea for this apocalyptic novel as early as the fall of 1823, not long after she had returned, bereft, from her long sojourn in Europe. It is not hard to imagine why her thoughts at the time would have been … dark. She had lost her husband, some children; her reputation in England was permanently stained; father-in-law Sir Timothy Shelley was behaving poorly … you know.
But by January 1826, she had finished and published the novel—and it remains one of her most interesting to read today, especially in this time when threats from infections and biological warfare and end-of-humanity plagues have become more and more real. And possible. Perhaps even likely.
 The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley, vol. 4, eds. Jane Blumberg with Nora Crook (London: William Pickering, 1996). All subsequent references to this novel, The Last Man, unless otherwise noted, are from this edition.