The Puddelbee Company

The Last Man

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851) is best known for the early science fiction and horror novel “Frankenstein, a Modern Prometheus” published in 1818. “The Last Man” was her second science fiction novel, and her third novel to be published in 1826. Between the two science fiction novels she wrote “Mathilda”, a romantic novel with difficult themes for the time, first published posthumously in 1859, and the historical novel “Valperga” in 1823. In 1830 she published a second historical novel, “The History of Perkin Warbeck”. Established as a serious literary, scientific and historical scholar, between 1835 and 1839 she contributed the vast majority of entries in the ten volumes of “Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men” of Lardner’s “Cabinet Cyclopaedia”. Mary was the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Like her mother she was a strong character and is, today, a feminist icon. In her writings she demonstrates the same feminist and radical characteristics of her parents, particularly in her final two novels “Lodore” (1835) and “Falkner” (1837).

The Last Man is a powerful character study of a single person coming to terms with disenchantment, hope, loss, and isolation as established order breaks down and the human population is slowly, inexorably exterminated.

In the first volume, the characters and history of the main protagonists are established, as is Mary Shelley’s vision of twenty first century society. This society sees the rise to power of the Byronic hero Lord Raymond, and his departure to fight in the Greek War of Independence.

The second volume deals with the spread of the plague, which occurs in several waves occurring each summer, and society’s response to it. With no knowledge of the true nature of the disease, this response had to be social. In the words of the Lord Protector, “Plague shall not find us a ready prey; we will dispute every inch of ground; and, by methodical and inflexible laws, pile invincible barriers … cleanliness, sobriety, and even good humour and benevolence, are our best medicines."

The final volume concerns the exodus, and eventual elimination, of a small band of English survivors. Only strong, fair leadership can keep this last remnant of English society intact. By the time the travellers cross the Alps there are only four survivors. A year later there is only one — “Verney, the Last Man”.

Forgotten Classics Edition

This edition of The Last Man is adapted from the 1826 English edition which is in the public domain. It is not intended as, and should not be treated as, an academic text. There are no footnotes or references, and no commentary. Mary Shelley’s quotations from other authors, notably the romantic poets and classical sources are italicised, but included without reference. Where appropriate the spelling and pronunciation has been modernised (British English). For ease of reading, minor changes (which do not affect the flow of the text) have been made to update the grammar, particularly to the use of the indefinite article preceding words with an initial vowel or letter ‘h’.

Author Illustation: Richard Rothwell, portrait of Mary Shelley 1840 (detail)

Cover Illustation: JMW Turner, Ulswater Lake from Gowbarrow Park, 1815 (detail)

Copyright Statement

To the best of my knowledge all rights to the content of works published in the Forgotten Classics edition of The Last Man, including illustrations, resides in the public domain in all territories. Ownership to the particular layout and design of a specific publication is claimed by the publisher. Fair use, including non-commercial distribution and reproduction of the publication in electronic and printed form, is allowed with attribution to “The Puddelbee Company” as the source.