The Last Man

The forgotten “other” book by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, another knockout Gothic tale considered to be her 2nd best after Frankenstein, published in 1826. Made me wonder how much of David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress was influenced by Shelley’s vision. I felt like I was re-reading WM, especially in the last 2 chapters, where the narrator is leaving hand-painted signs around (“Friend, come! I wait for thee!”), reading books from the libraries in Rome, setting his sights on a boat to float him away.

Some sections of this book quite gripping, others in need of an editor for modern-day attention & taste. Great dramatics of the upswelling of the narrator’s life– born of a nobleman disgraced, raised a sheep herder, rescued by the son of the king, educated, married to the princess, all of this happening 250 years in the future from when Shelley was writing it, 2093 the plague hits. Funny to see “the future” (which is upon us) only consisted of balloon rides, ships, horses, letters carried via post. It was jarring to reconcile Shelley’s intent to have this be a realistic futuristic story with the fact that I’m living less than 80 years from the endpoint of her story and things are vastly different. Another great drama in the narrator’s lowly sister being chosen as a mate by the most powerful and richest man in England, their souls intertwining, he giving up the quest for the crown to marry her but later entering politics and getting sidetracked with a lover (oops!) which estranges them until he goes to Greece to once again be a military hero. He dies there, but she has a good final month with him, after his release from Turkish prison, nursing him back to health, and then he perishes in the final battle over Constantinople.

Then, things get weird. The plague hits, and with it, plaguey writing that’s long winded and excessive. So plague plague plague plague, people die, people survive, finally winnowed down to a straggling bunch of survivors on the island of England ready to flee to southern climes. In France, they splinter into groups, in-fighting, the goal being to get to Switzerland for the summer which somehow defeats the plague. The narrator contracts and then beats the plague but no one else survives. Final scene with other people is the narrator & Adrian & Clara, shipwrecked, narrator makes it to shore.