A Review of Mary’s Monsters by Lita Judge

Mary Shelley’s personal struggles helped create her enduring classic.


The novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a complex story filled with lots of emotion, symbolism, and themes.  If you have read and loved this work, then Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge is a fitting follow-up book.  Through this novel, you will notice the way the world and Mary Shelley’s own life experiences impacted her and inspired her to craft her story.  It must not be overlooked as it gives a deeper understanding of the themes in Frankenstein.

Mary’s Monster follows the life of Mary Shelley from the time she is a young girl, as she writes her book, and after its publication.  Interestingly, Lita Judge tells the story in verse accompanied by beautiful images.  It is haunting and certainly leaves an impression.  In following Shelley’s life, the reader sees the way loss, loneliness, grief, and betrayal are obstacles that she often faced.  These complex emotions are threaded throughout the novel and the exploration of them are some of the most prominent themes in Frankenstein

One of the first lines of the book Mary’s Monster is, “They expected girls to be nice and obey the rules.  They expected girls to be silent and swallow punishment and pain.”  During the time in which Shelley was alive, women were viewed as inferior, but Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, challenged these gender norms.  Her book A Vindication of the Rights of Women is heralded as one of the first feminist texts.  Mary Shelley felt a bit betrayed by her mother who died shortly after her birth, but became a strong proponent of her ideas.  Shelley’s feeling of betrayal stemmed from the fact that her father married a wicked woman after her mother’s death.  This woman influenced her father and turned him away from his previous “radical” ideas.  The quote, “Father promised freedom, love, equality for women.  But for me, it seems, he has locked the door to any future beyond selling books,” expresses this familial betrayal that Shelley felt.  In Frankenstein, the creature is spurned by his creator, Victor Frankenstein.  As a result, he is filled with bitterness and feelings of betrayal.  This plot is a direct parallel from Shelley’s life. 

The reader can also observe that the loneliness Shelley faces is reminiscent of what the creature in Frankenstein faces.  In Mary’s Monster, Judge states, “There is a special curse reserved for girls who dare to run away without a ring.  People I have known my entire life turn their backs and slam their doors.”  Just like the creature, Shelley is ostracized by society due to factors that should not define one.  She ran away with a married man and her half-sister, and the creature was rejected because of his appearance.  One can see the effects of Mary’s solitude in the quote, “My heart withers and my tongue sculps bitter words that only make me feel ugly and unloved.”  These feelings are similar to how the creature felt when he was all alone.  When Mary’s sister, Fanny, dies, she is overcome with emotion as shown in the text: “The grief, and guilt, and anger, and truth I feel about her death weave into the characters of my book.”  Shelley is able to expertly incorporate these intricate feelings into her novel.  The reader can see that the emotions in Frankenstein are so raw and real.

While Shelley certainly incorporated her personal experiences into Frankenstein, she also took observations from the outside world and utilized them in her novel.  She lived in the time period right after the French Revolution and saw the effects firsthand.  This is shown in the quote, “It is man’s unquenchable thirst for power and violence that is truly ugly, not these miserable children.”  Shelley realized that humans, and in this case specifically men, were greedy and constantly in the pursuit of power.  This power-hungry mentality led to the harm of many and yet they didn’t even consider this.  In Frankenstein, the reader sees Victor Frankenstein build his creature and reject it without considering how his actions could harm those around him, like his family.  Many scientific discoveries were also being made during this time and scientists were attempting to have control of nature.  However, Shelley did not believe that this was good, as the book states, “Evil lodges too easily in men’s hearts.  What will happen if they assume the power to create life?”  People were trying to bring back the dead and artificially create life.  However, Shelley had seen what men could do and did not believe they should have attempted to make a being.  This is manifested in Frankenstein in the form of the relationship between the creature and Victor Frankenstein.  Victor does not care for the creature, and as a result, the creature becomes vengeful. 

Shelley challenged the gender norms of the time, as well as other societal ideals.  Her children were born out of wedlock and the father was a married man.  During this time, actions like this were unacceptable.  Judge’s book explores Shelley’s feelings on the matter in the quote, “They will be scorned and considered loathsome, because people reject those who don’t fit their vision of a perfect ideal.”  Society lays out standards for everyone and expects people to meet them perfectly.  Some standards are completely out of one’s control.  The creature is judged because of his appearance and Mary’s children will be judged based on their parents, two factors that in no way determine one’s character. 

Overall, Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge is an incredible book that skillfully explores the life of Mary Shelley.  It is crucial to read after Frankenstein in order to gain a deeper understanding of the themes in the novel.  The poignant illustrations and elegant verse add to the story and convey a deeper meaning that could not have been as effective in prose.  This book is a must read if you loved Frankenstein, and even if you didn’t, it is still so transformative.