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.
About the Author
Mary Shelley was born in London in 1797, daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, famous radical writers of the day. She is the author of Frankenstein (1818), The Last Man (1826), and other works. John Havard (introduction) teaches at the State University of New York, Binghamton, where his work focuses on 18th-century and Romantic literature and political culture. His essays about literature and politics have appeared in The New Rambler, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Public Books. Rebecca Solnit (foreword) is the author of more than 20 books, including Orwell's Roses, Recollections of My Nonexistence, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and Men Explain Things to Me. She is a regular contributor to The Guardian and other publications.