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China Daily / 2020-05 / 23 / Page010

Sole survivor

China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-23 00:00

Mary Shelley's little-known 1826 novel The Last Man, concerning a 21st-century plague, couldn't be more prescient.

"Many of those who remained secluded themselves; some had laid up stores which should prevent the necessity of leaving their homes-some deserted wife and child, and imagined that they secured their safety in utter solitude. Such had been one man's plan, and he was discovered dead and half-devoured by insects, in a house many miles from any other, with piles of food laid up in useless superfluity. Others made long journeys to unite themselves to those they loved, and arrived to find them dead."

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is principally known for two reasons: She was the wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and she was the author of the 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The fame she attained for the latter far surpassed the former. However, little known to many readers today, she wrote at least five other books, novellas, dramas and short stories, along with travel books and biographies.

In the wake of the current global pandemic, her novel The Last Man merits swift reappraisal. Published in 1826, it's a shockingly relevant postapocalyptic science-fiction tale that tells the story of a 21st-century plague and its solitary survivor. He's Lionel Verney, living in 2073 and, by the novel's end, 2100.

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