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The Last Man  
ShelleyLastMan.png
Title page from an 1826 edition of volume II printed in Paris
Author Mary Shelley
Country England
Language English
Genre(s) Science Fiction, Apocalyptic fiction
Publisher Henry Colburn
Publication date February 1826
Media type Three-volume novel

The Last Man is an apocalyptic science fiction novel by Mary Shelley, which was first published in 1826. The book tells of a future world that has been ravaged by a plague. The novel was harshly reviewed at the time, and was virtually unknown until a scholarly revival beginning in the 1960s. It is notable in part for its semi-biographical portraits of Romantic figures in Shelley's circle, particularly Shelley's late husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.

Contents

Characters

Lionel Verney The Last Man. The orphan son of an impoverished nobleman, Lionel is originally lawless, self-willed, and resentful of the nobility for casting aside his father. When he is befriended by Adrian, however, he embraces civilization and particularly scholarship. Verney is largely an autobiographical figure for Mary Shelley.[1]

Adrian, Earl of Windsor Son of the last King of England, Adrian embraces republican principles. He is motivated by philosophy and philanthropy, rather than ambition. He is based on Percy Bysshe Shelley.[2]

Lord Raymond An ambitious young nobleman, Raymond becomes famous for his military efforts on behalf of Greece against the Turks, but eventually chooses love over his ambition to become King of England. He instead becomes Lord Protector of England before returning to Greece. Raymond is motivated by passion and ambition rather than principle. He is based on Lord Byron.[3]

Perdita Lionel's sister, and Raymond's wife. Growing up an orphan, Perdita was independent, distrustful, and proud, but she is softened by love for Raymond, to whom she is fiercely loyal.

Idris Adrian's sister, and Verney's wife. She is loving, maternal, and self-sacrificing.

Countess of Windsor Mother of Adrian and Idris, an Austrian princess and former Queen of England. She is haughty and ambitious, scheming to restore the monarchy through her children.

Evadne A Greek princess with whom Adrian falls in love, but who loves Raymond. She is devoted and proud, even when she becomes impoverished.

Clara Daughter of Raymond and Perdita.

Alfred and Evelyn Sons of Verney and Idris.

Ryland Leader of the popular Democratic party, Ryland has grand plans for the abolition of nobility before the plague, but is unwilling to govern England during the plague.

Merrival An astronomer who is oblivious to the plague, instead speculating about the condition of earth in six thousand years, until his family dies.

Lucy Martin A young woman who chose to marry a repulsive suitor rather than wait for her true love, in order to provide for her aging mother. Her devotion to her mother almost leads to her being left behind in England after the exile.

The Imposter Unnamed - a false prophet (from ambition, rather than fanaticism) who creates a radical religious sect in opposition to Adrian while in France.

Juliet A young noblewoman who joins the Imposter's party in order to support her baby, but is later killed revealing his imposture.

Plot summary

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Introduction

Mary Shelley claims that in 1818 she discovered, in the Sibyl's cave near Naples, a collection of prophetic writings painted on leaves by the Cumaean Sibyl. She has edited these writings into the current narrative, the first-person narrative of a man living at the end of the 21st century, which proves to be the end of humanity.

Volume 1

Lionel's father was a friend of the king before he was cast away because of his gambling. Lionel's father left to take his life but before he did, he left a letter for the king to take care of his family after his death. After Lionel's father died the letter was never delivered. Lionel and his sister grew up with no support and because of it grew to be uncivilized. Lionel grew to hate the royal family and Perdita grew to enjoy her isolation from society. When the king left the throne the monarchy came to an end and a republic is created. When the king dies the Countess attempts to raise their son, Adrian, to reclaim the throne, but Adrian opposes his mother and refuses to take the throne. Adrian moves to Cumberland where Lionel, who bears a grudge against Adrian and his family for the neglect of the Verney family, intends to terrorize and confront Adrian. He is mollified by Adrian's good nature and his explanation that he only recently discovered the letter. Lionel and Adrian become close friends, and Lionel becomes civilised and philosophical under Adrian's influence.

Lionel returns to England to face the personal turmoil amongst his acquaintances. Lord Raymond, who came to renown for his exploits in the war between Greece and Turkey, has returned to England in search of political position, and soon Perdita and Evadne both fall in love with him. On discovering that his beloved, Evadne, is in love with Raymond, Adrian goes into exile, presumably mad. Raymond intends to marry Idris (with whom Lionel is in love) as a first step towards becoming king, with the help of the Countess. However, he ultimately chooses his love for Perdita over his ambition, and the two marry. Under Lionel's care Adrian recovers, although he remains physically weak. On learning of the love between Idris and Lionel, the Countess schemes to drug Idris, bring her to Austria, and force her to make a politically motivated marriage. Idris discovers the plot and flees to Lionel, who marries her soon after. The Countess leaves for Austria, resentful of her children and of Lionel.

Adrian and the others live happily together until Raymond runs for Lord Protector and wins. Perdita soon adjusts to her newfound social position, while Raymond becomes well-beloved as a benevolent administrator. He discovers, however, that Evadne, after the political and financial ruin of her husband (on account of her own political schemes) is living in poverty and obscurity in London, unwilling to plead for assistance. Raymond attempts to support Evadne by employing her artistic skills in secrecy, and later nursing her in illness, but Perdita learns of the relationship and suspects infidelity. Her suspicions arouse Raymond's proud and passionate nature, and the two separate. Raymond resigns his position and leaves to rejoin the war in Greece, accompanied for a time by Adrian. Shortly after the wounded Adrian returns to England, rumors arise that Raymond has been killed. Perdita, loyal in spite of everything, convinces Lionel to bring her and Clara to Greece to find him.

Volume 2

Lionel finds Raymond and brings him back to Greece. Lionel and Raymond then go back to fighting and go to Constantinople. Lionel discovers Evadne, dying of wounds received fighting in the war. Before she dies, Evadne prophesies Raymond's death, a prophecy which confirms Raymond's own suspicions. Raymond's intention to enter Constantinople causes dissension and desertion amongst the army because of reports of the plague. Raymond enters the city alone, and soon dies in a fire. He is taken to Athens for burial.

In 2092, while Lionel and Adrian attempt to return their lives to normality, the plague continues to spread across Europe and the Americas, and reports of a black sun cause panic throughout the world. At first England is thought to be safe, but soon the plague reaches even there. Ryland, recently elected Lord Protector, is unprepared for the plague, and flees northward, later dying alone amidst a stockpile of provisions. Adrian takes command and is largely effective at maintaining order and humanity in England, although the plague rages on summer after summer. Ships arrive in Ireland carrying survivors from America, who lawlessly plunder Ireland and Scotland before invading England. Adrian raises a military force against them, but ultimately is able to resolve the situation peacefully.

Volume 3

The few remaining survivors decide to abandon England in search of an easier climate. On the eve of their departure Alfred before reaching Dover Lionel receives a letter from Lucy Martin, who was unable to join the exiles because of her mother's illness. Lionel and Idris travel through a snowstorm to assist Lucy, but Idris, weak from years of stress and maternal fears, dies along the way. Lionel and the Countess, who had shunned Idris and her family out of resentment towards Lionel, are reconciled at Idris' tomb. Lionel recovers Lucy (whose mother has died), and the party reaches Dover en route to France.

In France, Adrian discovers that the earlier emigrants have divided into factions, amongst them a fanatical religious sect led by a false messiah who claims that his followers will be saved from disease. Adrian unites most of the factions, but this latter group declares violent opposition to Adrian. Lionel sneaks into Paris, where the cult has settled, to try to rescue Juliet. She refuses to leave because the imposter has her baby, but she helps Lionel to escape. Later, when Juliet's baby sickens, Juliet discovers that the imposter has been hiding the effects of the plague from his followers. She is killed warning the other followers, after which the imposter commits suicide, and his followers return to the main body of exiles at Versailles.

The exiles travel towards Switzerland, hoping to spend the summer in a colder climate less favorable to the plague. By the time they reach Switzerland, however, all but four (Lionel, Adrian, Clara, and Evelyn) have died. The four spend a few relatively happy seasons at Switzerland, Milan, and Como before Evelyn dies of typhus. The survivors attempt to sail across the Adriatic Sea to Greece, but a sudden storm drowns Clara and Adrian. Lionel, the last man, swims to shore. The story ends in the year 3000.

Themes

Biographical elements

Many of the central characters are wholly or partially based upon Shelley's acquaintances (Peck, 1923). Shelley had been forbidden by her father-in-law, Sir Timothy Shelley, from publishing a biography of her husband, so she memorialized him, amongst others, in The Last Man. The utopian Adrian, Earl of Windsor, who leads his followers in search of a natural paradise and dies when his boat sinks in a storm, is a fictional portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley, although other minor characters such as Merrival bear traces of Percy as well.[4] Lord Raymond, who leaves England to fight for the Greeks and dies in Constantinople, is based on Lord Byron. The novel expresses Mary Shelley's pain at the loss of her community of the "Elect",[5] as she called them,[6] and Lionel Verney has been seen as an outlet for her feelings of loss and boredom following their deaths and the deaths of her children.[7]

It appears that Shelley found inspiration for the novel in Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville's Le Dernier Homme (1805), translated into English in 1806 as Omegarus and Syderia.[8]

Failure of romantic political ideals

The Last Man not only laments the loss of Shelley's friends, but also questions the Romantic political ideals they stood for.[9] In a sense, the plague is metaphorical, since the revolutionary idyll of the élite group is corroded from within by flaws of human nature.[10] As literary scholar Kari Lokke writes, "in its refusal to place humanity at the center of the universe, its questioning of our privileged position in relation to nature, then, The Last Man constitutes a profound and prophetic challenge to Western humanism."[11] Specifically, Mary Shelley, in making references to the failure of the French Revolution and the Godwinian, Wollstonecraftian, and Burkean responses to it, "attacks Enlightenment faith in the inevitability of progress through collective efforts".[12]

Isolation

Hugh Luke argues that "By ending her story with the picture of the Earth's solitary inhabitant, she has brought nearly the whole weight of the novel to bear upon the idea that the condition of the individual being is essentially isolated and therefore ultimately tragic" (xvii). Shelley shares this theme of tragic isolation with the poetry of Lord Byron and William Wordsworth.[13]

Publication history and reception

Two editions of The Last Man were published by Henry Colburn in London in 1826, and one edition in Paris in 1826 by Galignani. A pirated edition was printed in America in 1833.[14] The Last Man received the worst reviews of all of Mary Shelley's novels: most reviewers derided the very theme of lastness, which had become a common one in the previous two decades. Individual reviewers labeled the book "sickening", criticised its "stupid cruelties", and called the author's imagination "diseased".[15] The reaction startled Mary Shelley, who promised her publisher a more popular book next time. Nonetheless, she later spoke of The Last Man as one of her favourite works. The novel was not republished until 1965. In the 20th century it received new critical attention, perhaps because the notion of lastness had become more relevant.[16]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Luke, Hugh J. Introduction. The Last Man by Mary Shelley. Lincoln, Nebraska: U of Nebraska Press, 1965. xii
  2. ^ Luke xi
  3. ^ Luke xii
  4. ^ Bennett, An Introduction, 74; Lokke, 119; Luke xi-xiv.
  5. ^ Paley, Introduction to The Last Man, viii. Mary Shelley used this term in a letter of 3 October 1824.
  6. ^ Paley, Introduction to The Last Man, viii. "The last man!" Mary Shelley wrote in her journal in May 1824. "Yes I may well describe that solitary being's feelings, feeling myself the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me". Paley, Introduction to The Last Man, vii–viii.
  7. ^ Luke xii.
  8. ^ Science Fiction in France before Verne
  9. ^ Paley, Introduction to The Last Man, xvi; Lokke, 117.
  10. ^ Lokke, 128–29.
  11. ^ Lokke, 116.
  12. ^ Lokke, 128.
  13. ^ Luke xvii.
  14. ^ Luke xxi
  15. ^ Paley, Introduction to The Last Man, xxi.
  16. ^ Paley, Introduction to The Last Man, xxii–xxiii.

Bibliography

  • Aaron, Jane. "The Return of the Repressed: Reading Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Feminist Criticism: Theory and Practice. Ed. Susan Sellers. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991.
  • Aldiss, Brian W. "On the Origin of Species: Mary Shelley". Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction. Eds. James Gunn and Matthew Candelaria. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2005.
  • An, Young-Ok. "'Read Your Fall': The Signs of Plague in The Last Man". Studies in Romanticism 44.4 (2005): 581-604.
  • Bannet, Eve Tavor. "The 'Abyss of the Present' and Women's Time in Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Eighteenth-Century Novel 2 (2002): 353-81.
  • Bennett, Betty T. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: An Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. ISBN 080185976X.
  • Bennett, Betty T. "Radical Imaginings: Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Wordsworth Circle 26.3 (1995): 147-52.
  • Blumberg, Jane. Mary Shelley's Early Novels: "This Child of Imagination and Misery". Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1993. ISBN 0877453977.
  • Cantor, Paul A. "The Apocalypse of Empire: Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after "Frankenstein": Essays in Honor of the Bicentenary of Mary Shelley's Birth. Eds. Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O'Dea. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997.
  • Canuel, Mark. "Acts, Rules, and The Last Man". Nineteenth-Century Literature 53.2 (1998): 147-70.
  • Clemit, Pamela. The Godwinian Novel: The Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brown, Mary Shelley. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. ISBN 0198112203.
  • Eberle-Sinatra, Michael. "Gender, Authorship and Male Domination: Mary Shelley's Limited Freedom in Frankenstein and The Last Man". Mary Shelley's Fictions: From Frankenstein to Falkner. Eds. Michael Eberle-Sinatra and Nora Crook. New York: Macmillan; St. Martin's, 2000.
  • Fisch, Audrey A. "Plaguing Politics: AIDS, Deconstruction, and The Last Man". The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein. Eds. Audrey A. Fisch, Anne K. Mellor, and Esther H. Schor. New York: New York University Press, 1993. ISBN 0195077407.
  • Haggerty, George E. "'The End of History': Identity and Dissolution in Apocalyptic Gothic". Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 41.3 (2000): 225-46.
  • Hopkins, Lisa. "Memory at the End of History: Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Romanticism on the Net 6 (May 1997).
  • Hopkins, Lisa. "The Last Man and the Language of the Heart". Romanticism on the Net 22 (May 2001).
  • Hutchings, Kevin. "'A Dark Image in a Phantasmagoria': Pastoral Idealism, Prophecy, and Materiality in Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Romanticism 10.2 (2004): 228-44.
  • Johnson, Barbara. "The Last Man". The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein. Eds. Audrey A. Fisch, Anne K. Mellor, and Esther H. Schor. New York: New York University Press, 1993. ISBN 0195077407.
  • Kilgour, Maggie. "'One Immortality': The Shaping of the Shelleys in The Last Man". European Romantic Review 16.5 (2005): 563-88.
  • Lokke, Kari. "The Last Man". The Cambridge Companion to Mary Shelley. Ed. Esther Schor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0521007704.
  • Lomax, William. "Epic Reversal in Mary Shelley's The Last Man: Romantic Irony and the Roots of Science Fiction". Contours of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Eighth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Ed. Michele K. Langford. New York: Greenwood, 1994.
  • McWhir, Anne. "'Unconceiving Marble': Anatomy and Animation in Frankenstein and The Last Man". Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley: Writing Lives. Eds. Helen M. Buss, D. L. Macdonald, and Anne McWhir. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001.
  • Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, her Fiction, Her Monsters. London: Routledge, 1990. ISBN 0415901472.
  • Nellist, Brian. "Imagining the Future: Predictive Fiction in the Nineteenth Century". Anticipations: Essays on Early Science Fiction and Its Precursors. Ed. David Seed. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1995.
  • O'Dea, Gregory. "Prophetic History and Textuality in Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Papers on Language and Literature 28.3 (1992): 283-304.
  • Palacio, Jean de. "Mary Shelley, The Last Man: A Minor Romantic Theme". Revue de Littérature Comparée 42 (1968): 37-49.
  • Paley, Morton. "The Last Man: Apocalypse without Millennium". The Other Mary Shelley: Beyond Frankenstein. Eds. Audrey A. Fisch, Anne K. Mellor, and Esther H. Schor. New York: New York University Press, 1993. ISBN 0195077407.
  • Peck, Walter E. "The Biographical Elements in the Novels of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley." PMLA, XXXCIII (1923), 196-220.
  • Poovey, Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. ISBN 0226675289.
  • Richardson, Alan. "The Last Man and the Plague of Empire". Romantic Circles MOO Conference. 13 September 1997.
  • Shelley, Mary. The Last Man. Ed. Morton D. Paley. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks, 1998. ISBN 0192838652.
  • Snyder, Robert Lance. "Apocalypse and Indeterminacy in Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Studies in Romanticism 17 (1978): 435-52.
  • Spatt, Hartley S. "Mary Shelley's Last Men: The Truth of Dreams". Studies in the Novel 7 (1975): 526-37.
  • Sterrenburg, Lee. "The Last Man: Anatomy of Failed Revolutions". Nineteenth-Century Fiction 33 (1978): 324-47.
  • Sussman, Charlotte. "'Islanded in the World': Cultural Memory and Human Mobility in The Last Man". PMLA 118.2 (2003): 286-301.
  • Thomas, Sophie. "The Ends of the Fragment, the Problem of the Preface: Proliferation and Finality in The Last Man". Mary Shelley's Fictions: From Frankenstein to Falkner. Eds. Michael Eberle-Sinatra and Nora Crook. New York: Macmillan; St. Martin's, 2000.
  • Wagner-Lawlor, Jennifer A. "Performing History, Performing Humanity in Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 42.4 (2002): 753-80.
  • Webb, Samantha. "Reading the End of the World: The Last Man, History, and the Agency of Romantic Authorship". Mary Shelley in Her Times. Eds. Betty T. Bennett and Stuart Curran. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.
  • Wells, Lynn. "The Triumph of Death: Reading Narrative in Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Iconoclastic Departures: Mary Shelley after "Frankenstein": Essays in Honor of the Bicentenary of Mary Shelley's Birth. Eds. Syndy M. Conger, Frederick S. Frank, and Gregory O'Dea. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997.
  • Wright, Julia M. "'Little England': Anxieties of Space in Mary Shelley's The Last Man". Mary Shelley's Fictions: From Frankenstein to Falkner. Eds. Michael Eberle-Sinatra and Nora Crook. New York: Macmillan; St. Martin's, 2000.

External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Last Man
by Thomas Campbell

All worldly shapes shall melt in gloom,
The Sun himself must die,
Before this mortal shall assume
Its Immortality!
I saw a vision in my sleep
That gave my spirit strength to sweep
Adown the gulf of Time!
I saw the last of human mould,
That shall Creation's death behold,
As Adam saw her prime!

The Sun's eye had a sickly glare,
The Earth with age was wan,
The skeletons of nations were
Around that lonely man!
Some had expired in fight,--the brands
Still rested in their bony hands;
In plague and famine some!
Earth's cities had no sound nor tread;
And ships were drifting with the dead
To shores where all was dumb!

Yet, prophet-like, that lone one stood
With dauntless words and high,
That shook the sere leaves from the wood
As if a storm passed by,
Saying, "We are twins in death, proud Sun,
Thy face is cold, thy race is run,
'Tis Mercy bids thee go.
For thou ten thousand thousand years
Hast seen the tide of human tears,
That shall no longer flow.

"What though beneath thee man put forth
His pomp, his pride, his skill;
And arts that made fire, floods, and earth,
The vassals of his will;--
Yet mourn not I thy parted sway,
Thou dim discrowned king of day:
For all those trophied arts
And triumphs that beneath thee sprang,
Healed not a passion or a pang
Entailed on human hearts.

"Go, let oblivion's curtain fall
Upon the stage of men,
Nor with thy rising beams recall
Life's tragedy again.
Its piteous pageants bring not back,
Nor waken flesh, upon the rack
Of pain anew to writhe;
Stretched in disease's shapes abhorred,
Or mown in battle by the sword,
Like grass beneath the scythe.

"Ee'n I am weary in yon skies
To watch thy fading fire;
Test of all sumless agonies
Behold not me expire.
My lips that speak thy dirge of death--
Their rounded gasp and gurgling breath
To see thou shalt not boast.
The eclipse of Nature spreads my pall,--
The majesty of Darkness shall
Receive my parting ghost!

"This spirit shall return to Him
That gave its heavenly spark;
Yet think not, Sun, it shall be dim
When thou thyself art dark!
No! it shall live again, and shine
In bliss unknown to beams of thine,
By Him recalled to breath,
Who captive led captivity.
Who robbed the grave of Victory,--
And took the sting from Death!

"Go, Sun, while Mercy holds me up
On Nature's awful waste
To drink this last and bitter cup
Of grief that man shall taste--
Go, tell the night that hides thy face,
Thou saw'st the last of Adam's race,
On Earth's sepulchral clod,
The darkening universe defy
To quench his Immortality,
Or shake his trust in God!"

PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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