StoryGraph Saturday: Death and the Maidens

StoryGraph Saturday is a weekly thing where I randomly choose a book from my To Read pile on StoryGraph and show it off to both remind myself that it’s there and to show it to you in case you might find it interesting, too.


Death and the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle
by Janet Todd
Literary History
297 pages

From The StoryGraph:

From the Romantic period’s star circle, the story of its saddest casualty–Fanny Wollstonecraft, daughter of an original feminist, sister of a literary star, and hopeful object of a poet’s affection, dead of suicide at the age of nineteen.

Little contemporary information was written about Fanny Wollstonecraft, whose mother Mary Wollstonecraft’s scandalous life scarred Fanny’s possibilities before she was even born. Deserted by her father, yet reared by Mary’s husband William Godwin, Fanny barely had a chance to adjust when her mother died from giving birth to the legitimate and lovely Mary. Fanny was always considered the ungainly one, the plain one, the less intelligent one. Finally, her imagination was sparked by the arrival of Percy Bysshe Shelley to the Godwin household. Her infatuation was quickly shattered when Shelley, like so many before him, chose the company of her sister instead, and though Fanny bore this rejection bravely, she was never quite the same after Mary and Shelley eloped along with her step-sister Claire–who would later track down and seduce Lord Byron.

Awash in a sea of sexual radicals, Fanny acted as personal assistant and go-between to this den of hedonists, shuttling information from one faction to the other, covering her sister’s lies and creating fabrications of her own. She ultimately ended her life alone in a Welsh seaside hotel, an empty bottle of laudanum and an unsigned note by her side.

Janet Todd’s meticulously researched and brilliantly told rendering of this life gives a fresh and fascinating insight into the Shelley-Byron world even as it draws Fanny out of the shadows of her mother’s and sister’s stunning careers.


I found this at my local used bookshop. The cover drew me in at first, and when I read the synopsis on the dust jacket, I knew I wanted to read it. I will probably get to it this summer, and I will report back as to what I think of it.

4 thoughts on “StoryGraph Saturday: Death and the Maidens

  1. I have about 85 books on my physical TBR. I’m slowly trying to get through them, but then I go back to the bookstore and see something new and interesting, and so that physical TBR never seems to shrink.

  2. I’m curious to hear about this one. I didn’t know a lot about the history of the various personalities, other than the classics several of them wrote. But I watched a fictional movie long ago that was apparently about a strange and crazy night with them that resulted in the ideas for some of their writing. It was a very strange and crazy movie. Not sure I’d watch it again, even if I could recall the name.

  3. There are plenty of strange and crazy movies out there about literary people. There’s one I watched for a college class that was based on the Faust tale that involved real actors and life-sized puppets. So, so strange.

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