Mathilda by Mary Shelley, adapted by Eileen Horne

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BBC Radio 4, 21-25 March 2011
Read by Emilia Fox, Mary Shelley's gothic tale of a young woman's experience of a traumatic family life proved riveting listening.
Clive Brill's five-part Book at Bedtime packed a wealth of incident into a short running-time: Mathilda is both into a dysfunctional family; her mother dies in childbirth; her father initially rejects her but takes her back, albeit briefly; and then rejects her on the basis that he cannot live with her. Although not stated directly, there is a strong indication that he has incestuous feelings for his daughter, as he conflates her with his lost wife. Mathilda pursues him over hill and dale, discovering in the end that he has drowned himself. She meets a handsome young poet who appears to share her experiences of bereavement; the two of them decide to kill themselves. Eventually Mathilda is talked out of it, but dies of consumption. She recounts her lifestory as a first-person narrative just before her demise.
Fox's reading was full of dramatic light and shade; her voice rose and fell with the cadences of Shelley's lengthy sentences which often prove difficult to read on the page with their use of multiple subordinate clauses. By doing so Fox managed to capture the ebb and flow of the narrative, as Mathilda recounted her remarkably full life. The story is a good example of the gothic in its approach to dramatic situations and the characters' reaction to them; it is testament to Fox's skill as a reader that she read the story straight without once descending into parody.