Few literary figures have been so intent as the Shelleys were on examining, with the impassioned precision specific to the very young, the differences between themselves and others. Few writers, furthermore, have so enthusiastically rearranged their circumstances so that they could translate those differences into the pages of their books and the texture of their lives. For those incurable Romantics, comparison was everything; they were obsessed by associations, by doubles, by the distance between souls and by the faith that art and love could reduce that distance. It is therefore unthinkable that Mary Shelley’s identity could be understood outside the context of her relationships to the hard-driving personalities of her father, her husband, and other figures in the Shelley circle; without those comparisons, her story is hugely diminished. Curiously, after taking care to describe the details of Mary Shelley’s...


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