|The Last Man
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- Death and disease level all men
This novel is a combination of a `roman ¨¤ clefs' and science fiction, with gothic and autobiographic elements.
In her vision of the end of the 21st century, Mary Shelley sees the Greek occupying Istanbul and England as a republic with three political parties (royalists, democrats and aristocrats). The leader of the democrats deserts his responsibilities through fear of the plague, while the intention of the head of the aristocrats (a highly idealized portrait of P.B. Shelley) is `to diminish the power of the aristocracy to effect a greater equalization of wealth and privilege and to introduce a perfect system of republican government.'
Byron (Lord Raymond) is not in the same league: `Power was the aim of all his endeavors. The selected passion was ambition.'
Her vision of mankind is pessimistic: `There was but one good and one evil in the world - life and death.'
For life, `The choice is with us; let us will it and our habitation becomes a paradise.'
But, `What is there in our nature that is for ever urging us on towards pain and misery? We are not formed for enjoyment; disappointment is the never-failing pilot of our life's bark, and ruthlessly carries us to the shoals.'
`It is a strange fact, but incontestable, that the philanthropist, who ardent in his desire to do good, who disdains other argument than truth, has less influence over men's mind than he who refuses not to adopt any means, nor diffuse any falsehood for the advancement of his cause.'
Man doesn't control his destiny and the whole of mankind is wiped out by the plague. But, even on the verge of total destruction, false prophets preach intolerance with their `pernicious doctrines of election and special grace'.
This book is brilliantly written: `He was no longer bent to the ground, like an over-nursed flower of spring that, shooting up beyond its strength, is weighed down even by its own coronal of blossoms.'
It has a few minus points: slow progression, too idealized main characters and a rather too simplistic cause of the whole destruction of mankind.
But, it remains a real discovery and a very worth-while read, with an excellent introduction by Pamela Bickley.
Many novels have the plague as subject. I recommend highly `Bassompierre' by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.
- A beautiful book.
True imagination and a wonderfully written tale of a tortured man. I thought Frankenstein was a powerfully depressing book of a man's loss of self, but Shelley tops herself with this gothic masterpiece (POOR VERNEY). Don't let Shelley's critics fool you. Give this book a try....more info
- The Last Man - A Futuristic Apocalyptic Vision
Many readers of Frankenstein are not aware that Mary Shelley wrote other novels. The Last Man is the first novel written about an apocalyptic future. In The Last Man, which takes place is the year 2073, everyone has died of a plague, resulting from a deadly gas released during a war, expect for one man, who is the narrator of the story. The plague first strikes in Africa and other countries other than England, where most of the novel takes place and the main characters live. The people of England believe they are immune and develop a fear of foreigners and outsiders; anyone who is different. This theme resonates today in the age of AIDS, a disease that has the potential to kill many people. AIDS, similar to the plague in the novel, affects certain group more than others, and creates fear and hatred of different cultural and racial groups. In writing this novel, it seems as if Mary Shelley had a prophetic vision of what may hold true for the future of humanity...more info
- 'All The World Has The Plague!'
Mary Shelley's novel, 'The Last Man' is a work which is slowly gaining the critical attention it richly deserves. Fans of 'Frankenstein' will be astounded at how much deeper Mary Shelley's indictment of 'masculine' visionary Romanticism, technology, and the faults of humanity go in 'The Last Man'. At the same time, the novel is fraught with problems and contradictions which give an already paranoid work a whirling sense of internal dementia.
The action of 'The Last Man' takes place between 2073 and 2100 AD. England is ripe for change as the last King of England abdicates his throne in response to public outcry for a more democratic form of government. Lionel Verney, a shepherd, is drawn out of a life of wildness and crime by Adrian, the former crown prince of England. The charismatic Lord Raymond enters the story as the lover of Lionel's sister, Perdita, and the newly-elected Lord Protector of England. Torn between his love of power and his affections for his wife and a persistent attachment to Evadne, a Greek woman, Raymond renounces his political position and flees to Greece. There, he leads a military campaign to establish Greek independence and bring about the end of the Turkish empire.
Then, the Plague takes over. The nondescript malady has wiped out the population of Constantinople just as Raymond conquers it, making his victory meaningless. Word of the plague's virulence comes in from Asia and America, and from the southern, eastern, and western corners of the world, the plague begins to encroach inward towards Europe and England. The remainder of the novel tracks Lionel and Adrian's attempts to save the human race from utter annihilation.
In 'The Last Man', Mary Shelley gives us a horrifying, desolate prophecy of the future, when religion, technology, and human effort are all exposed as meaningless. Although many might say that she also abandons the redemptive possibilities of art, I think that art provides the novel's only hope. Mary Shelley's dependence on art of every format is clear in the novel's influences - She has Lionel refer to literature, including the works of Daniel Defoe, Charles Brockden Brown, Ann Radcliffe, Homer, Shakespeare, and Jonathan Swift among others.
The novel is fraught with problems of gender and power relations. At any moment of emotional weakness, Lionel calls himself 'girlish' or 'womanly,' and the novel seems to privilege women who are selfless and submissive. On the other hand, as Morton Paley's introduction points out, the plague itself is consistently described as female, at one place referred to as 'The Queen of the World'. With regard to power relations, Lionel continually mentions that in the dying world of humanity, social distinctions have all been abandoned - and yet there are still references to his 'servant' or those of other people. The most problematic scene in the novel revolves around racial distinctions when Lionel encounters a dying black man in London.
There are a million things to talk about in 'The Last Man,' and a novel so rich for discussion deserves to be read by as many people as possible. This is a book I warmly recommend, so pick it up and discover that there is more to Mary Shelley than 'Frankenstein'....more info
- The Beginning of the End
In "The Last Man" (1826) Mary Shelley conceived a plot device that would eventually be used by a string of writers: an apocalyptic plague that virtually wipes out the human race. From "The Last Man" would come books like "The Scarlet Plague" (1912), "Earth Abides (1949) and "The Stand" (1978), each work taking something from its predecessor, each work written in a separate, distinctive era. The passage of time would allow writers to be more graphic in terms of aftermath, as readers became more sophisticated and less disturbed by what earlier generations would consider "horrifying".
"The Last Man" takes place in the late 21st century: a future without telephones, cars, television or computers. In fact life in the 2090s is not that different to the 1820s, apart from a few political changes (Britain is now a republic). Readers who criticized "Earth Abides" for being dated would have even more to complain about here. Shelley could not possibly have guessed the advances, social and technological, that would take place since 1824. Therefore it's helpful for the modern reader to pretend the story is happening in an alternate 21st century, along the lines of "Pavane".
The narrator Lionel Verney spends the first third of the book describing his early life, telling us how an altruistic young man of noble stock (Adrian) took him under his wing, effectively saving him from a life of penury. Lionel and his younger sister now mix in the highest circles, the cultured world of art, literature and music (things which the working class had nothing to do with in the 1820s).
Mary Shelley's prose is formal to say the least. Containing echoes of Byron and Wordsworth, it is rich, stylish and philosophical. It is not until Part two of the novel that the plague makes its appearance. When Shelley describes the plague there is mention of bodies lying in the open and the breakdown of order, but she doesn't treat it with the kind of brutal frankness that Stephen King does in "The Stand". It does look as if King was influenced by Shelley however. Here is a quote from "The Last Man":
"The ward was filled with an effuvia that caused my heart to heave with painful qualms. The dead were carried out, and the sick brought in, with like indifference; some were screaming with pain, others laughing from the influence of more terrible delerium; some were attended by weeping, despairing relations, others called aloud with thrilling tenderness or reproach on the friends who had deserted them while the nurses went from bed to bed incarnate images of despair, neglect and death."
Here is a quote from "The Stand" one and a half centuries later:
"Wards were crammed. Patients lay on the floors. The halls were full; nurses, many of them obviously sick themselves, wove in and out, some of them weeping hysterically. Others looked shocked to the point of coma." King also adds little details like the smell of waste and the cries of the damned. While Shelley is poetic, King is direct and to the point. He was writing for an audience whose attention span has been diminished by things like television and films laden with special effects. The impatient 21st century reader may therefore find "The Last Man" more of a challenge.
Although Shelley's plague is more gradual than those of other writers, society is still crumbling. Even though extinction is in the air, the main characters still perform acts of heroism. The character Adrian has all the makings of a saint. It's just unfortunate that there will be no one left alive to canonize him. Although "The Last Man" is dated, it did pave the way for a genre that still fascinates and terrifies readers today. Mary Shelley is owed a great debt in terms of apocalyptic literature....more info
- The First Last Man
The Last Man starts with a man telling the story of his life; how he was orphaned at an early age and had to go to work at the age of five(!) and grew up to become a juvenile delinquent with a probable career as a criminal. His life is utterly changed by an admirable young man who is simply kind to him. What you may be asking does this have to do with the title? Mary Shelley is being sneaky here. She pulls you completely into the narrator's life. You and he barely notice when someone mentions a plague in China. Here the comparison to the AIDS epidemic is all to apt. A plague is advancing. The end of the world is at hand and no one pays attention because it doesn't directly, personally affect their lives. Suddenly, the plague is everywhere and then, too late, the human race scrambles to find a way to survive. It's a very profound, very sad book, well-worth the effort.
Written in 1826, this is, as far as I know, the first novel to take up the subject of a deadly plague that threatens the survival of the human race. Potential readers need to be warned that the writing style takes an effort to get used to. There is nothing wrong with it. It's simply different from a different age, the age of the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. It is well worth the effort....more info
- Let His Death Crown His Life!
I am in ethereal love with Mary Shelley. Why is her literary importance and fancy not uplifted more than it is? I grimace whenever I go to a bookstore and glance each time at the Mary Shelley section to find only Frakenstein. She has other great books probably not many people know about. Such is the case in The Last Man. I thought Frankenstein was about as sad as one could allow a character to feel but after reading The Last Man Mary out does herself by really putting poor Verney in a pickle. This story really tugged at me hard and actually made me feel for the characters in a way so few books or movies ever have. If you know about Mary Shelley and have read Frankenstein or anything else by this, I feel, greatest author to have ever put word to paper, then you MUST read this beautiful accounting of "the last year of the world". It astonished me to find out that the book was out of print from 1833 to 1965. Wow! I failed to compare the story to such contemporary biological warfare or AIDS for that matter and took the story's meaning for what Shelley may have wanted to get across during her time that had neither. I believe she wants to almost persuade us of a deeper level of human condition and compassion by taking us as low as we can and then allowing us to constantly strive upward from that awful place she leaves Verney. Please, read more of Mary Shelley....more info
- A Visionary Work
I recall seeing a "Twilight Zone" episode close to fifty years ago, about a man who really wanted to be alone. He got his wish when a nuclear war wiped out everyone else. He was quite happy at this state of affairs, migrating to the New York library to spend the rest of his life reading all the books. Unfortunately, he tripped on the steps and broke his thick reading glasses. So much for solitary bliss.
Being the last man on earth is once again a hot topic, with two recent movies addressing the issue. I Am Legend is set to enter theatres on Dec. 14, and as of Late November of 2007, a movie based upon The Last Man is in Post Production. The movie updates the setting of The Last Man to take into consideration the technology advances of the past two centuries plus the seventy-odd years that will take place before the novel's action begins. Looking at the trailer, however, it appears that technological accuracy is the only improvement made to Ms. Shelley's novel. For those interested, information on the movie can be viewed at their website.
Reading Mary Shelley's The Last Man will, if nothing else, send you running to your history books to find out, among other things, when Napoleon waged his wars for world domination (the battle of Waterloo took place in 1815-eleven years before The Last Man was published), when English Monarchs became more of a figurehead than a ruler (1867), and when Jules Verne first wrote about traveling in a balloon (Five Weeks in a Balloon in 1863, Around the World in Eighty Days in 1872), and what type of plague would kill a person before the sun goes down on his first sick day.
As in Frankenstein Mary Shelley shows herself as a sci-fi pioneer and visionary with enough political savvy to know that the strife between Christian and Muslim would not be resolved even two hundred years into the future. She also envisioned that in this distant future, we would not be safe from disastrous epidemics, although she did not suggest that germ warfare (rather than a natural spread of disease) might be the culprit. Her visions of balloon travel as a means of rapid transit predates Jules Verne by forty years, which helps us forgive the fact that in her story ground transport, even for kings, consisted of horseback or carriage.
The Last Man was published about four years after the death of Mary's husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley drowned when his boat sank, a boat that Mary claims was not seaworthy, although a sudden squall might have caused the boat to capsize. Her husband's death in 1822 happened the same year that a miscarriage nearly took her own life and only two years after her half sister and Percy's ex-wife both committed suicide. One can see why Shelley's world-view might have been depressing, and The Last Man reflects this.
The story begins with a visit to a cave in which an unidentified narrator visits Naples in 1818, finding a manuscript in an inaccessible cave. The manuscript appears to be from the future, from the year 2079, and is written by one Lionel Verney, a close friend of the English king and Brother-in-Law to the greatest General since Napoleon. Verney will become the last man to inhabit the earth.
We follow Verney's manuscript from his early roots as a poverty-stricken orphan to his friendship with the heir-apparent to the throne of England and to a military campaign with his Brother-in-Law into plague-stricken Turkey, a campaign which touches off the worldwide plague that wipes out the human population of the Earth.
As much as I like and admire The Last Man as a visionary work, I also found a lot to dislike. I have read several books about real and fictional plagues, and have come to expect that one would at least see a description of what a plague victim experiences when in the throes of the disease. Shelley describes very little beyond a fever and a quick death. I would imagine that she was vaguely describing Pneumonic Plague, a mutation of Bubonic Plague that takes the pathogen airborne and which can kill in a matter of hours.
I also disliked Shelley's annoying habit of describing the outcome before she describes the action. I spent a lot of reading time backtracking because I was certain I missed something, since I seemed to have found out what was going to happen before I was supposed to. Our protagonist beset with grief, but I couldn't figure out why. As I read on, I discovered the reason for the grief, but since I already knew something bad was going to happen, the reading was more depressing than suspenseful.
On the up side, Mary Shelley's gifted use of the English language was perhaps better in this work than in Frankenstein. Also to her credit, Shelley, perhaps because of her many tragic experiences, quite accurately captures and expresses the angst of mourning. The Last Man was not Frankenstein, but if you have the patience to read it, you will find its mysterious makeup rather interesting....more info
- "The Last Man," the best of Mary Shelley's "other" works
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley published "The Last Man" in 1826, eight years after her classic "Frankenstein" and four years after her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley died. Of all of her other novels, "The Last Man" is clearly the one that is of more than passing interest. In her Journal in May of 1824 Shelley wrote: "The last man! Yes, I may well describe that solitary being's feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me." The result was one of the first novels to tell a story in which the human race is destroyed by pestilence, which we have seen in novels from Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" and Stephen King's "The Stand," and films such as the recent "28 Days Later..." However, "The Last Man" is also an early example of a dystopian novel set in the 21st century when England is a republic being governed by a ruling elite. Adrian, Earl of Windsor (and a representation of Shelley's late husband) introduces the narrator of the tale, Lionel Verney, who is the required outsider to describe and comment upon the world of the future.
Shelley's vision of the future is essentially a reaction against Romanticism and the failure of the movement to solve the problems of the world with art and imagination. This would stand in contrast to earlier English utopian works such as Francis Bacon's "The New Atlantis," which reflected the Age of Reason's belief that science would solve any and all problems. Shelley begins the story as a romance, with Lord Raymond (presumed to be modeled on Lord Byron) winning the hand of the lovely Perdita and being elected Protector. In contrast to the dire predictions of Thomas Malthus regarding unchecked population growth resulting in mass starvation, an ideal world seems to have been created. But then the plague breaks out in Constantinople and starts spreading. This plague is grounded more in fantasy than science, with Shelley clearly relying more on Boccaccio and Defoe, for her pandemic, which is not contagious (an interesting plot choice to be sure).
The point of the plague is that it allows Shelley to show the best and the worst of human nature. When the demagogue Ryland abdicates being Lord Protector, the altruistic Adrian takes his place and makes an appeal for brotherhood, even as anarchy runs rampant in the streets and eventually the main characters are forced to flee England, which has strong parallels to the expulsion from Eden. This sets up the idea at the end of the novel that the last survivors might be able to establish an earthly paradise and rebuild the human race after the plague has disappeared. I was rather surprised that Shelley kills off her female characters because I had expectations that this would be more of a feminist work. Of course, this is because I remember who her mother was, but "The Last Man" is clearly concerned more with her late husband.
"The Last Man" was probably Mary Shelley's least successful work during her lifetime, but today, which the interest in science fiction, as well as the real world threats of biological warfare and other weapons of mass destruction, this idea of how the world ends is quite pertinent. This is clearly her most important work after "Frankenstein," although obviously we are talking about a significant gap....more info
- Mary Shelley
The Last Man by Mary Shelley
If you are a fan of Mary Shelley, then you will definetely enjoy this novel. Awesome ebook! ...more info
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