DescriptionMary Shelley: Valperga: or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca. (London: Printed for G. and W.B. Whittaker, Ave-Maria-Lane, by Richard Taylor, 1823), first edition, three volumes, Volume I: 293 pages, Volume II: 287 pages, Volume III: 269 pages followed by a leaf of publisher's advertising, brown half-leather and marbled boards with crimson and gilt title plate on spine, and gilt and blind stamping on spine as well, 12mo (4.25" x 7.25"). Edited by William Godwin. The set is in good condition, with general edge, corner and spine wear to each volume. Each volume has rubbed boards, light foxing, and previous owner's bookplate affixed to the front pastedown. Volume I shows bumping to the top corner of the boards. Volume II has front edge bumped. Both Volume II and Volume II have a vertical strip of matching marbled paper applied down the center of the back board. All three volumes have a tight textblock.
Valperga is an intelligent study in sexual politics. It also contains some of Mary Shelley's most beautiful and impassioned writing. It was praised on publication for its convincing recreation of the period (Mary Shelley emulated Scott and foreshadowed George Eliot in the proficiency of her research and the portraits of its two female protagonists, though the heretic Beatrice shocked the Blackwood's reviewer). Yet, according to Mary Shelley, "it never had fair play" and, except for a facsimile, has never been republished.
Frederick L. Jones in The Letters of Mary W. Shelley writes, "Her creation of Frankenstein at the age of eighteen is a marvel known to many; but few if any are aware that Valperga, her second novel, excels the first almost as much as Alastor surpasses Queen Mab. It is, indeed, her best novel, having a richness of imaginative style and a creative force in combination with a thoroughness of scholarship that are exhibited in none of her other works. Shelley and Godwin enthusiastically recognized its advance beyond Frankenstein, and rightly expected great things of her in the future."
According to Betty Bennett in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: An Introduction, Valperga along with her other historical novel, Perkin Warbeck, voice in fiction Mary Shelley's opposition to monarchical government, disapproval of class distinction, abhorrence of slavery and war. During the era in which Mary Shelley wrote Valperga, the United States was the only operative federal democracy. Throughout Europe, monarchy was again in control. In the concept of historical cycles, both Shelleys saw the possibility of reform that could lead the way to enlightened sociopolitical systems. The different, yet related, characters of the women, resonating with Mary Wollstonecraft's arguments for equal rights for women, are the key to that reform. One reason Valperga never achieved the popularity that she, P. B. Shelley, and Godwin expected was that though the reviews were largely positive, they omitted discussion of Valperga's central political focus. Reviewers admired the female protagonist as the epitome of feminine virtue rather than as an unconventional political woman. We may only grasp Valperga's significance if it is recognized to be about the politics of power contrasted with the power of love.
Valperga was published February 19, 1823, just less than a month after P. B. Shelley's ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. From the Betty Bennett Collection.
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