And what was going on in Mary’s life as she worked on Lodore? She began thinking about the book early in 1831, and throughout those early months (and the months before) she attended concerts and helped usher into print the latest novel by her father, William Godwin, now in his mid-seventies—and, as always, hurting for money.
That novel, Cloudesley, appeared in March 1830, and Godwin biographers are generally not too impressed with it. As a plot, writes Peter H. Marshall, it is perhaps the least successful of Godwin’s novels. There are no central characters, and the action meanders all over Europe. But—surprise, surprise—it sold out its first printing very quickly, perhaps helped by a very positive review by his friend William Hazlitt—and another, unsigned, by … Mary herself. This, of course, seems unthinkable in our day—a daughter reviewing her father’s book! But it was far more common in earlier days—some writers even reviewed their own work, anonymously.
We do have a hint of this sort of thing now. On such sites as Amazon.com “reviewers” can chime in about any book listed on the site, and it would be naïve to think that writers do not solicit and/or encourage “reviews” from their friends and acquaintances. And is it impossible to imagine a writer reviewing his/her own book, under a pseudonym? Surely not in America!
So what did Mary say about her father’s novel Cloudesley? Well, her review consumes eight pages in volume 2 of The Novels and Works of Mary Shelley. Originally published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (May 1830), the review is in many ways characteristic of its era, featuring very long quotations from the text under review and some heavy-duty summary.
But here are just a few of the observations Mary made about her father’s work:
1. … he sets it down in its vivid reality: no part is dim, no part is tame.
2. Of all modern writers, Mr Godwin has arrived most sedulously, and most successfully, at the highest species of perfection his department of art affords.
3. Mr Godwin’s style is at once simpler and energetic; it is full, without being inflated.
4. … every page displays freshness and vigour ….
You get the idea? Sounds like the kind of book you’d like to run out and buy, eh? Well, lots of people did, apparently.