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Mary Shelley’s Mathilda, the story of one woman’s existential struggle after learning of her father’s desire for her, has been identified as Shelley’s most important work after Frankenstein. The two texts share many characteristics, besides authorship and contemporaneity: both concern parental abandonment; both contribute to the Gothic form through themes of incest, insanity, suicidality, monstrosity, and isolation; and both are epistolary. However, Mathilda was not published until 1959, 140 years after Shelley wrote it—in part because Shelley’s father, William Godwin, suppressed it. This new edition encourages a critical reconsideration of a novella that has been critically stereotyped as biographical and explores its importance to the Romantic debate about suicide.
Historical appendices trace the connections between Mathilda and other works by Shelley and by her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, while also providing biographical documents, contemporary works on the theme of incest, and documents on suicide in the Romantic era.