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  • Published: 13 August 2024
  • ISBN: 9780143137900
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 512
  • RRP: $35.00

The Last Man



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

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.

  • Published: 13 August 2024
  • ISBN: 9780143137900
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 512
  • RRP: $35.00

About the author

Mary Shelley


The childhood of Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851), sounds rather like a dark fairy-tale. Her mother died giving birth to her and she was brought up by a remote father and a step-mother who hated her. Her step-sister was a depressive and later committed suicide and Mary had little in common with her step-brother or her half-brother. As a young girl, she escaped into books and would often read by the side of her mother's tomb.

In 1813 Mary met Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was only twenty-one but was already unhappily married. He was destined to be one of the geniuses of English poetry. The two fell in love and eloped, despite Mary's age. Her father, William Godwin, disowned her, but still she and Shelley were married in 1816. They settled in Italy but tragedy seemed to follow them. Only one of their four children lived very long and then, in 1822, when he was just thirty, Shelley was drowned. Mary lived for another thirty years but she lost the promise that she had shown in the company of her brilliant husband and his friends, such as the poet Lord Byron. The single book that we remember her for belonged to her happy time in Italy.

It was Byron who suggested in 1817, that they each write a horror story. The result in Mary's case, was Frankenstein. As well as being creepier than most other books in the genre, Frankenstein has a far better story-line and is in the end, both moving and tragic. Amazingly, a young girl of twenty gave us the book whose name has become synonymous with horror.

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