It’s impossible to do justice to the accomplishments of two such amazing women in a short review: which is why Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley is so valuable! Author Gordon details their eventful and captivating life stories with insight, humor and understanding, alternating chapters about each woman throughout.

Wollstonecraft, an almost unbelievably productive writer, philosopher and early advocate of women’s rights, survived a troubled childhood, grew up to teach for a time and then lived and wrote in Revolutionary France. A liberal thinker who authored several books, including the famous A Vindication of the Rights of Men, followed by A Vindication of the Rights of Women, she also had an affair with an American soldier and diplomat, Gilbert Imlay, which resulted in the birth of a daughter, Fanny. Through marriage to the philosopher William Godwin, she became a mother again before dying due to complications of childbirth at age 38. The child born at this unfortunate time was Mary Godwin, who became the lover and later wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, wrote Frankenstein (at age 19), and became Shelley’s widow upon his death by drowning in 1822.

The story of these two brilliant and remarkable women, their sadnesses and triumphs, and the circle of fascinating people that surrounded each of them, cannot help but attain an extra resonance during contemporary times. Author Gordon succeeds in making them come alive in the pages of her book.

Alison M.