Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Like mother, like daughter. Almost literally.

Quick synopsis: A dual biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, a very famous feminist writer and her daughter Mary Shelley who wrote a little book called Frankenstein.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Basically, Frankenstein got written because Mary Shelley was on vacation and someone dared her to come up with something. Turned out pretty well.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: As mentioned in the synopsis, Mary Shelley isn’t some weird genius from a family of nobodies. Her mother Mary Wollstonecraft was extremely important in the early (and I mean early) feminist movement. She died about a month after giving birth to Mary Shelley.

Oh, the dudes around them were kind of a big deal but who cares about them.

My Take: This book has two major things going for it.

First, Mary and Mary are supremely interesting as people. Nowadays, feminist means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Mary W. was a pioneer and devoted her life to championing feminism. She also got called a whore and people tired to discredit her. Thank God we have moved on from doing that. Oh, wait….

Mary S. is just as interesting. And complex. These are not women who always lived by society’s rules even today. Their writings are not just good books. They are works of genius. And again, they got called names and then people tried to say men wrote their books.

The structure of this book takes it from being very good to amazing in and of itself. Gordon alternates between mother and daughter each chapter. It changes it from a dual biography to almost a comparison of the women. Amazingly, you see such similarities between their lives that it becomes eerie. It makes all the difference in making this a book you hope doesn’t stop.

Verdict: This book is so well done that you don’t even need to know or even care about the ladies. Gordon makes you care.

If You Liked This Try (badass women addition):

  • Giles Tremlett, Catherine of Aragon
  • Robert Massie, Catherine the Great
  • Kristin Downey, Isabella
  • Lynne Olson, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War
  • Elizabeth Lev, The Tigress of Forli
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Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon
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