HIDEOUS LOVE: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote ‘Frankenstein,’ by Stephanie Hemphill

October 8, 2013

In her 1831 introduction to “Frankenstein” (first published anonymously in 1818), Mary Shelley refers to the novel as her “hideous progeny,” but bids it to “go forth and prosper.” It has not only prospered but multiplied and mutated, becoming the stuff of incalculable nightmares, dramatic adaptations and Halloween costumes. The rather thrilling story of its creation — initially springing up out of a cozy highbrow ghost-story competition — is at the heart of “Hideous Love,” Stephanie Hemphill’s portrait of the young Mary Shelley. As in “Wicked Girls,” Hemphill’s account of the Salem witch-hunt, this new story is told through a sequence of free-verse poems. The book begins with Shelley lamenting the absence of her mother (Mary Wollstonecraft, who died 11 days after giving birth) and the stifling presence of her stepmother. But by age 16, she meets Percy Bysshe Shelley and is swiftly caught up in their love affair, their children and their writing projects. The years covered — 1814 to 1822 — are not only eventful but harrowing (not least the death of three of her children), yet this period also features her delight as she begins writing in earnest: “I hear a voice/ and know it to be/ my own.’’ Compelled because of her social notoriety to publish “Frankenstein” anonymously, Mary is of two minds: “The temperamental child/ inside me/ pounds her fists/ in anger about this,/ but the wiser, patient Mary/ just keeps writing/ without a name.”

Abby McGanney Nolan

HIDEOUS LOVE

The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein

By Stephanie Hemphill


“Hideous Love: The Story of the Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein” by Stephanie Hemphill. (Balzer + Bray)

Balzer+Bray. $17.99. Ages 13 and up

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