The Last Man

Foreword by Rebecca Solnit
Introduction by John Havard
Ebook
On sale Apr 09, 2024 | 512 Pages | 978-0-593-51199-2
Mary Shelley's landmark novel that invented the human extinction genre and initiated climate fiction, imagining a world where newly-forged communities and reverence for nature rises from the ashes of a pandemic-ravaged society, now for the first time in Penguin Classics, with a foreword by Rebecca Solnit

A Penguin Classic


Written while Mary Shelley was in a self-imposed lockdown after the loss of her husband and children, and in the wake of intersecting crises including the climate-changing Mount Tambora eruption and a raging cholera outbreak, The Last Man (1826) is the first end-of-mankind novel, an early work of climate fiction, and a prophetic depiction of environmental change. Set in the late twenty-first century, the book tells of a deadly pandemic that leaves a lone survivor, and follows his journey through a post-apocalyptic world that's devoid of humanity and reclaimed by nature. But rather than give in to despair, Shelley uses the now-ubiquitous end-times plot to imagine a new world where freshly-formed communities and alternative ways of being stand in for self-important politicians serving corrupt institutions, and where nature reigns mightily over humanity—a timely message for our current era of climate collapse and political upheaval. Brimming with political intrigue and love triangles around characters based on Percy Shelley and scandal-dogged poet Lord Byron, the novel also broaches partisan dysfunction, imperial warfare, refugee crises, and economic collapse—and brings the legacy of her radically progressive parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, to bear on present-day questions about making a better world less centered around “man.” Shelley’s second major novel after Frankenstein, The Last Man casts a half-skeptical eye on romantic ideals of utopian perfection and natural plenitude while looking ahead to a greener future in which our species develops new relationships with non-human life and the planet.
Mary Shelley was born in London in 1797, daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, famous radical writers of the day. Mary’s mother died tragically ten days after the birth. Under Godwin’s conscientious and expert tuition, Mary’s was an intellectually stimulating childhood, though she often felt misunderstood by her stepmother and neglected by her father. In 1814 she met and soon fell in love with the then unknown Percy Bysshe Shelley, and in July they eloped to the Continent. In December 1816, after Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, committed suicide, Mary and Percy married. Of the four children she bore Shelley, only Percy Florence survived. They lived in Italy from 1818 until 1822, when Shelley drowned following the sinking of his boat Ariel in a storm. Mary returned with Percy Florence to London, where she continued to live as a professional writer until her death in 1851.
The idea for Frankenstein came to Mary Godwin during a summer sojourn in 1816 with Percy Shelley on the shores of Lake Geneva, where Lord Byron was also staying. She was inspired to begin her unique tale after Byron suggested a ghost story competition. Byron himself produced “A Fragment,” which later inspired his physician John Polidori to write The Vampyre. Mary completed her short story back in England, and it was published as Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818. Among her other novels are The Last Man (1826), a dystopian story set in the twenty-first century, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837). As well as contributing many stories and essays to publications such as the Keepsake and the Westminster Review, she wrote numerous biographical essays for Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia (1835, 1838–39). Her other books include the first collected edition of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Poetical Works (4 vols., 1839) and a book based on the Continental travels she undertook with her son Percy Florence and his friends, Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844). Mary Shelley died in London on February 1, 1851. View titles by Mary Shelley

About

Mary Shelley's landmark novel that invented the human extinction genre and initiated climate fiction, imagining a world where newly-forged communities and reverence for nature rises from the ashes of a pandemic-ravaged society, now for the first time in Penguin Classics, with a foreword by Rebecca Solnit

A Penguin Classic


Written while Mary Shelley was in a self-imposed lockdown after the loss of her husband and children, and in the wake of intersecting crises including the climate-changing Mount Tambora eruption and a raging cholera outbreak, The Last Man (1826) is the first end-of-mankind novel, an early work of climate fiction, and a prophetic depiction of environmental change. Set in the late twenty-first century, the book tells of a deadly pandemic that leaves a lone survivor, and follows his journey through a post-apocalyptic world that's devoid of humanity and reclaimed by nature. But rather than give in to despair, Shelley uses the now-ubiquitous end-times plot to imagine a new world where freshly-formed communities and alternative ways of being stand in for self-important politicians serving corrupt institutions, and where nature reigns mightily over humanity—a timely message for our current era of climate collapse and political upheaval. Brimming with political intrigue and love triangles around characters based on Percy Shelley and scandal-dogged poet Lord Byron, the novel also broaches partisan dysfunction, imperial warfare, refugee crises, and economic collapse—and brings the legacy of her radically progressive parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, to bear on present-day questions about making a better world less centered around “man.” Shelley’s second major novel after Frankenstein, The Last Man casts a half-skeptical eye on romantic ideals of utopian perfection and natural plenitude while looking ahead to a greener future in which our species develops new relationships with non-human life and the planet.

Author

Mary Shelley was born in London in 1797, daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, famous radical writers of the day. Mary’s mother died tragically ten days after the birth. Under Godwin’s conscientious and expert tuition, Mary’s was an intellectually stimulating childhood, though she often felt misunderstood by her stepmother and neglected by her father. In 1814 she met and soon fell in love with the then unknown Percy Bysshe Shelley, and in July they eloped to the Continent. In December 1816, after Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, committed suicide, Mary and Percy married. Of the four children she bore Shelley, only Percy Florence survived. They lived in Italy from 1818 until 1822, when Shelley drowned following the sinking of his boat Ariel in a storm. Mary returned with Percy Florence to London, where she continued to live as a professional writer until her death in 1851.
The idea for Frankenstein came to Mary Godwin during a summer sojourn in 1816 with Percy Shelley on the shores of Lake Geneva, where Lord Byron was also staying. She was inspired to begin her unique tale after Byron suggested a ghost story competition. Byron himself produced “A Fragment,” which later inspired his physician John Polidori to write The Vampyre. Mary completed her short story back in England, and it was published as Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus in 1818. Among her other novels are The Last Man (1826), a dystopian story set in the twenty-first century, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837). As well as contributing many stories and essays to publications such as the Keepsake and the Westminster Review, she wrote numerous biographical essays for Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia (1835, 1838–39). Her other books include the first collected edition of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Poetical Works (4 vols., 1839) and a book based on the Continental travels she undertook with her son Percy Florence and his friends, Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844). Mary Shelley died in London on February 1, 1851. View titles by Mary Shelley