I’m a touch behind the curve on this one, but I wanted to get my thoughts down nonetheless. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man laid the groundwork for all the post-apocalyptic sci-fi novels which have been written in the nearly two centuries since.
The novel’s prose is a bit thick and it’s relatively long (although not Robert Jordan-esque by any stretch), but it’s worth the slog. The obvious themes explored by Shelley are loss and the failure of what we’d call Romantic ideals. What I’d like to focus on is how humankind doesn’t make it. In a novel in which we find only the eponymous last man survives, we know that everyone else isn’t going to make it. How Shelley does it deserves attention.
Side note: is there some value to mapping Shelley’s novel to Y: the Last Man? The difference is the survival of women.
Shelley focuses on the women who die. From the suicide drowning of protagonist Lionel Verney’s sister Perdita (the “lost one” being aptly named) to Evadne dying when the scene shifts to the gates of Athens, to Juliet, killed when she reveals the impostor’s truth, Shelley seems to be suggesting that humankind is doomed without its women. A lack of feminine guidance (the death of his mother and separation from Elizabeth while in Ingolstadt) leads to Victor Frankenstein making poor choices in Shelley’s most popular work. None of the significant women survive that novel, either. Shelley, whose mother wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women, may in both Frankenstein and The Last Man, be leveraging the new-for-her-time idea that from more than just a biological standpoint, the way forward for humankind is the successful pairing and partnering of man and woman.