The narrator is Matilda, a young woman who has secluded herself from others and is about to die. As a sort of a final confession she wants to write what caused her to retreat from human company and why her life has been miserable. She wants to write about her abominable family tragedy.
|A portrait of Shelley by Rothwell (1840) Source|
A whiff of scandal
The situation of the narrator, which is revealed to the reader on the first pages, makes an interesting position for the reader. The reader is in constant anticipation, because she knows that something really awful is going to happen. And the cover text of the back cover copy actually gives away, what is that great tragedy. It's because Mary Shelley's father prevented the publishing of Matilda and it wasn't published until about a hundred years after Mary Shelley had died.
Mary Shelley's father's reaction made people suspect that there were some similarities between the story of Matilda and the life of Mary Shelley. So, the big secret in the novel became the actual selling point of the novel.
General review (no spoilers!)
Me and a friend of mine started our own little book club so these thoughts are from both of us. Matilda was the first novel we read and discussed about.
I very much liked the fact that the character of Matilda is not your typical damsel in distress but she thinks, feels, and acts more like a typical male main character in Gothic novels. Of course, we have to remember that the typical male hero of a Gothic tale is not the male hero of today.
In Gothic tales the male hero shows (almost exaggerates) his feelings and torments, and can be rather dramatic and sometimes superstitious. Often in Gothic stories the female characters like Matilda (a young virgin) are there to make the male antihero (aka. Byronic hero) to redeem himself. That doesn't happen in Matilda.
Some people have criticized this short novel because they think that the characters and their actions are not believable and that the novel is not quite finished: they considered that the style was not perfect all the time and that there was a lot of repetition. I and my friend contradict both these interpretations.
In some reviews people point out that there is a lot of repetition in the novel and draw a conclusion that it means that Shelley did not have time to finish it properly. Again we disagree. The novel is a letter written by a traumatized young woman as her final confession. Of course there is repetition, that is how you try to get over a trauma when you get no professional help.
Also, the novel is mimicking a letter so of course its style is not as polished as in a novel that is not "pretending" to be a letter. Since it is a letter, there will be some mistakes and repetition by the writer (Matilda), not by the author (Shelley).
I thought that Matilda is a bit like Romeo and Juliet: everyone knows the plot but they still want to see it at the theater. So, before talking about my personal reading experience (with a spoiler!) I am saying that Matilda is a classic, it is gorgeously written, the language is beautiful and the story is flowing. It can be read for free online via Project Gutenberg.
My personal reaction
I read the back cover before starting to read the novel, so I knew what sort of a train wreak the characters would face.
Spoiler alert: the father feels an unnatural and incestuous love towards his daughter Matilda. He can't stand the situation and will eventually kill himself. After that Matilda secludes herself from the society and will face some more turmoil in her life, but of that I won't be spoiling! ;)
For me, the reading experience was super creepy. It's a bit like going to see the Jaws movie with the killer shark in it. As a viewer you know there will be a big shark that kills. Basically, the whole movie you are just waiting for the shark and it is thought to be entertainment.
It was quite disturbing to realize that I was sort of enjoying while reading about the agony and sorrow of the characters.
Especially the first 40 pages of the novel were causing some serious twistedness. The narrator Matilda tells how she as a young girl is worried why her father is suddenly behaving strangely and seems very distressed. The reader (in this case I) knows something that the character of young Matilda doesn't. So, when the young Matilda decides that she must find out her father's secret, I instantly had a movie sound effect in my head going "DUN DUN DUUUUN!!!" In a very twisted way it was hilarious.
I do not know how many of you wanted to read the spoiling part but whether you did or not, I hope this review got you interested of Shelley's novel Matilda!