Friday, May 22, 2015

Charlotte Gordon's "Romantic Outlaws"

Critically acclaimed author Charlotte Gordon's newest book is Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley. Earlier works include Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Story of America's First Poet — a Massachusetts Honor book for non-fiction — and The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths.

Here Gordon dreamcasts an adaptation of Romantic Outlaws:
Jessica Chastain, of course. That’s who should play Mary Shelley. The character Chastain played in Zero, Dark, Thirty reminds me of Shelley: young, brilliant, hard-headed, self-disciplined, and yet somehow vulnerable. Plus, she has that great red hair and Mary Shelley was famous for her gorgeous red locks. The tricky thing about Shelley is capturing her wildness and, weirdly, her seriousness. At age sixteen, she’d run away with the already married Percy Shelley, scandalizing all of London society. But she was not just a rebellious teenager. She spent each day teaching herself ancient Greek and working on her writing. She was only nineteen when she wrote Frankenstein.

As for Mary Wollstonecraft, Kate Winslet. Wollstonecraft was famous for being “voluptuous,” sexy and warm, earthy, outrageous, and smart, smart smart. She was called a whore for writing “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” But she did not let criticism stop her. She was a fearless advocate for the poor and oppressed. She believed in freedom and the power of ideas. She hated the institution of marriage as it stripped rights away from women. In the eighteenth century wives were not allowed to own property. They could not initiate a divorce, and, in fact, had no legal rights whatsoever.

But like her daughter, Wollstonecraft was complicated. She was not simply a political philosopher. Yes, she was enraged by injustice and fought for women to have independence. But in her own life, she struggled to overcome depression when she was deserted by the man she loved. She needs to be played by an actress who can handle this complexity, conveying both her passion and her intellectual.

Mark Rylance should play William Godwin, Wollstonecraft’s last lover and Mary Shelley’s father. Benedict Cumberbatch should be the quicksilver, charismatic, fearsomely intelligent Shelley. Except maybe he’s too old. James McAvoy for Byron. Or Liam Hemsworth.

Romantic Outlaws tries to unite a mother and daughter who never met. Wollstonecraft died ten days after giving birth to Shelley. But Shelley spent her whole life trying to uphold her mother’s ideal of freedom. The story is cinematic as both women traveled the world and had many lovers. But the chapters alternate between Wollstonecraft and Shelley to help the reader see the many strange parallels in their lives, and I have no idea how a director would handle this. But then how would I? I write books. I don’t direct movies.
Visit Charlotte Gordon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue