Mathilda (1959) is a posthumous novella by English writer and Romantic Mary Shelley. Written as a means of self-distraction following the deaths of her young children in Italy, Mathilda is a work haunted by tragic loss. Unpublished for over a century, its posthumous appearance helped cement Shelley’s reputation as a leading Romantic, an artist unafraid of confronting such themes and taboos as incest and suicide in her work.
Mathilda, named after its narrator, traces a young woman’s troubled life from birth to her premature deathbed. Following her mother’s death during childbirth and her father’s subsequent abandonment, Mathilda is raised by her aunt in rural Loch Lomond, Scotland. A gifted reader and promising intellectual, she rises from her difficult circumstances to lead a relatively happy childhood. When, at the age of 16, her father reenters her life, the two reconnect and eventually move together to London. As she begins to receive suitors, however, her father’s strange jealousy and irrational behavior conceal a terrible secret. When he reveals his incestuous desires to Mathilda, she rejects him, resulting in his suicide and leaving her unmarried, orphaned, and financially unstable. Living in self-imposed exile, she befriends the similarly melancholy Woodville, a young widower and poet who does his best to care for her despite her crushing bouts of depression and frequent suicidal thoughts. Mathilda is an emotionally complex and ultimately difficult novella recognized for its controversial themes and for its parallels to Shelley’s own tragic life.
With a beautifully designed cover and professionally typeset manuscript, this edition of Mary Shelley’s Mathilda is a classic of English literature reimagined for modern readers.