When Mary Shelley began writing The Last Man in 1824 in the wake of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley’s untimely death, she drew from her close circle of family and friends as models for her main characters. Although it is tempting to view this novel as an autobiographical expiation of the profound sorrow that overwhelmed Shelley at her husband’s death, to do so is to underestimate her prescient political insight and to risk overlooking the complex implications of class and rank that suffuse the position of the narrator, Lionel Verney. While Shelley’s emotions give a passionate appeal to this novel, her intellectual ideas infuse the novel’s powerful critique of British governance. The Last Man is narrated in a political framework in which war and the clash of empires, parliamentary and republican conflict, turbulent revolution, and social and political corruption arrange the fates of the characters. In addition, the plague that silently and invisibly takes over Western Europe and England serves as a spectral process of corrosive malignity from outside, ensnaring all efforts to fix a domestic English system that is collapsing around individuals and the collective.
Mary Shelley, The Last Man, 19th-century servants, 19th-century gender politics, 19th-century family, 19th-century social reform, 19th-century English national identity, 19th-century English civil servant, 19th-century English public service, master-servant relationship, dystopian novel, Republican motherhood
Lynch, Eve M.
"Trading Places: Mary Shelley’s Argument with Domestic Space,"
ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830: Vol.3: Iss.1, Article 2.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/abo/vol3/iss1/2