A Life with Mary Shelley

Overview


In 1980, deconstructive and psychoanalytic literary theorist Barbara Johnson wrote an essay on Mary Shelley for a colloquium on the writings of Jacques Derrida. The essay marked the beginning of Johnson's lifelong interest in Shelley as well as her first foray into the field of "women's studies," one of whose commitments was the rediscovery and analysis of works by women writers previously excluded from the academic canon. Indeed, the last book Johnson completed before her death was Mary Shelley and Her Circle, ...
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A Life with Mary Shelley

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Overview


In 1980, deconstructive and psychoanalytic literary theorist Barbara Johnson wrote an essay on Mary Shelley for a colloquium on the writings of Jacques Derrida. The essay marked the beginning of Johnson's lifelong interest in Shelley as well as her first foray into the field of "women's studies," one of whose commitments was the rediscovery and analysis of works by women writers previously excluded from the academic canon. Indeed, the last book Johnson completed before her death was Mary Shelley and Her Circle, published here for the first time. Shelley was thus the subject for Johnson's beginning in feminist criticism and also for her end.

It is surprising to recall that when Johnson wrote her essay, only two of Shelley's novels were in print, critics and scholars having mostly dismissed her writing as inferior and her career as a side effect of her famous husband's. Inspired by groundbreaking feminist scholarship of the seventies, Johnson came to pen yet more essays on Shelley over the course of a brilliant but tragically foreshortened career. So much of what we know and think about Mary Shelley today is due to her and a handful of scholars working just decades ago.

In this volume, Judith Butler and Shoshana Felman have united all of Johnson's published and unpublished work on Shelley alongside their own new, insightful pieces of criticism and those of two other peers and fellow pioneers in feminist theory, Mary Wilson Carpenter and Cathy Caruth. The book thus evolves as a conversation amongst key scholars of shared intellectual inclinations while closing the circle on Johnson's life and her own fascination with the life and circle of another woman writer, who, of course, also happened to be the daughter of a founder of modern feminism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Of singular importance as a set of contributions to theoretical debates, and filled with humanity, this book plays a major role in the transmission of Barbara Johnson's work. Johnson was brilliantly insightful, outspoken, witty, and endowed with an incredibly strong intelligence. These qualities are present at every turn of A Life with Mary Shelley, including the essays that frame her early and late writings."—Evelyne Ender, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY
Library Journal
06/15/2014
This title examines Mary Shelley's life (1797–1851) and work (Frankenstein) through the lens of her prominent family and friends, and is a nod to the New York Public Library's Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle. The late Johnson (English, comparative literature, Harvard Univ.) was one of the handful of scholars responsible for bringing Mary Shelley and her work to the prominence that they enjoy today. Shelley had, until articles published by Johnson and her colleagues in the 1980s, been overlooked as no more than an appendage to the two eminent contemporary thinkers and writers who were her parents—Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin—and to the famous Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom she married. Here Butler (Maxine Elliott Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, Univ. of California, Berkley) and Felman (Robert Woodruff Professor of Comparative Literature and French, Emory Univ.) compile those seminal articles, including previously unpublished pieces. There are also analyses of and reflections upon Johnson's Shelley-related oeuvre, written by some of the feminist-theory scholars who, with Johnson, brought Shelley and her writing to renown. VERDICT Obligatory for libraries supporting graduate-level English programs, but a pass for lay readers, who will find the literary criticism too academic.—Megan Hodge, Virginia Commonwealth Univ. Libs., Richmond
Publishers Weekly
05/26/2014
Mary Shelley and Jacques Derrida are presiding geniuses in this uneven anthology commemorating the late Harvard literary critic Johnson (1947–2009). Comprising Johnson’s works on Shelley, plus new essays by distinguished colleagues, the volume presents Johnson as a significant figure in the academic study of Shelley and the Romantic Movement. Thus, three of her classic essays, reprinted here, are credited with helping to canonize the Frankenstein author as a major English novelist. In reading them, though, beware a certain esotericism—as they are classics not just of Shelley studies but of Derridean deconstruction, and oracular in the style of that school. Elsewhere, commentaries by Johnson’s colleagues are sometimes more daunting than Johnson’s works, which they explicate. By comparison, the more accessible new work, “Mary Shelley and Her Circle,” narrates the lives of various Shelley cohorts, depicting a collaborative model of Romantic creativity, thus contradicting the “solitary genius” myth that clings to Shelley’s husband, Percy, and his friend Lord Byron. With this rebuttal to Romantic egotism, Johnson collaborates in Shelley’s own projects—since in her telling, Shelley is a proto-feminist engaged in a “deconstruction” of myths of (male) Romantic authorship. Framing the careers of novelist and critic in parallel is a major theme of this often recondite anthology, whose subject is indeed Johnson’s life with Shelley—not, primarily, Shelley herself. (July)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804791250
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 7/16/2014
  • Series: Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics Series
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 964,984
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author


Barbara Johnson was Professor of English and Comparative Literature and the Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society at Harvard University. Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program in Critical Theory at UC Berkeley. Shoshana Felman is Robert Woodruff Professor of Comparative Literature and French at Emory University.
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