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The Kinship Coterie and the Literary Endeavors of the Women in the Shelley Circle

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Sharon Lynne Joffe

The Kinship Coterie and the Literary Endeavors of the Women in the Shelley Circle examines the female relationships in the Wollstonecraft-Godwin-Shelley families, particularly the marginalized and often neglected figures of Claire Clairmont and Fanny Imlay. The model of authorship presented here challenges the Romantic ideal of solitariness and promotes instead the idea that the writer belongs to and creates within a specific community. Using the newly coined phrase kinship coterie to describe the group of kinswomen whose coterie becomes a forum for sharing ideas and for writing texts, this book considers how half-sisters Mary Shelley and Fanny Imlay, and their step-sister, Claire Clairmont, respond in dialogic fashion to themes originally raised by the mother figure, Mary Wollstonecraft. Furthermore, this book investigates Shelley’s relationship with Maria Reveley-Gisborne, the woman who served as a surrogate maternal figure to the adult Shelley. Finally, the volume tests the hypothesis against another group of women writers, the Brontë sisters, whose kinship coterie provided the three siblings with an opportunity to develop texts both for and within a private and receptive kinship audience.
The present text affords an opportunity for teachers and scholars alike to push beyond the traditional boundaries associated with Romantic and Victorian studies and to see how women from both literary time periods can be read using a similar methodology. Such a reading facilitates further analyses of other groups of connected writers. In addition, by reintroducing the forgotten members of the Shelley circle, the kinship coterie functions as a cornerstone for a critical reanalysis of the existing canon.