Mathilda by Mary Shelley

Mathilda

subjects: Romance

Description

This shocking tale of father-daughter incest, by the author of Frankenstein, was suppressed for over a century. Mathilda’s adoration of her beloved father veers into tragedy in this High Romantic tale of forbidden passion. Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, was so repulsed by the story that it laid unpublished until 1957.

Excerpt

Florence. Nov. 9th 1819

It is only four o’clock; but it is winter and the sun has already set: there are no clouds in the clear, frosty sky to reflect its slant beams, but the air itself is tinged with a slight roseate colour which is again reflected on the snow that covers the ground. I live in a lone cottage on a solitary, wide heath: no voice of life reaches me. I see the desolate plain covered with white, save a few black patches that the noonday sun has made at the top of those sharp pointed hillocks from which the snow, sliding as it fell, lay thinner than on the plain ground: a few birds are pecking at the hard ice that covers the pools—for the frost has been of long continuance.

Mary has here added detail and contrast to the description in F of F—A, in which the passage “save a few black patches… on the plain ground” does not appear.

I am in a strange state of mind.

The addition of “I am alone… withered me” motivates Mathilda’s state of mind and her resolve to write her history. I am alone—quite alone—in the world—the blight of misfortune has passed over me and withered me; I know that I am about to die and I feel happy—joyous.—I feel my pulse; it beats fast: I place my thin hand on my cheek; it burns: there is a slight, quick spirit within me which is now emitting its last sparks. I shall never see the snows of another winter—I do believe that I shall never again feel the vivifying warmth of another summer sun; and it is in this persuasion that I begin to write my tragic history. Perhaps a history such as mine had better die with me, but a feeling that I cannot define leads me on and I am too weak both in body and mind to resist the slightest impulse. While life was strong within me I thought indeed that there was a sacred horror in my tale that rendered it unfit for utterance, and now about to die I pollute its mystic terrors. It is as the wood of the Eumenides none but the dying may enter; and Oedipus is about to die.

Mathilda too is the unwitting victim in a story of incest. Like Oedipus, she has lost her parent–lover by suicide; like him she leaves the scene of the revelation overwhelmed by a sense of her own guilt, “a sacred horror”; like him, she finds a measure of peace as she is about to die.