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Literature / The Last Man

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The Last Man is a novel written by Mary Shelley, supposedly taking place in the 21st Century. As the title indicates, it details a plague that sweeps throughout the rest of the world, infecting and decimating the entirety of Mankind, and survivors trying to maintain their will to live in addition to trying to fight off against hostile human settlements. The central focus is a man named Lionel Verney, an orphan whose troubling behaviour leads him to the King of England's son, Adrian, where the two of them become friends and chronicles Lionel's life from this first meeting all the way to adulthood.


The book is divided into three volumes; Volume 1 centres on Lionel's life as a teenager when he first meets up with Adrian and becomes close friends and his role in politics, Volume 2 details Lionel defending his kingdom and his close ones from several attacks and a mysterious outbreak that is killing everyone it makes contact with and Volume 3 is about the remaining survivors trying to find a new home where they would be free of contracting the disease.

The story is known for being initially having a troubled time in regards to publication, due to his dark and heavy themes of loneliness and loss, only beginning to receive appreciation by the 1960s. The Last Man has various elements and a tonal atmosphere that is very similar to the Dystopian genre, which was yet to be popularized a century later with works like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four.


The novel provides examples of

  • Anyone Can Die: By Volume 2, major characters begin to bite the dust constantly and by Volume 3, only a handful of characters, main or minor, are left.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Lionel and Perdita grow to be this as children, a result of them never receiving parental care and discipline. Lionel recalls the time when he was lawless and opposing British nobility. Perdita even more so, as while Lionel would try to form social bonds with other kids his kind, Perdita would usually tend only to herself with the exception of her older brother.
  • Driven to Suicide: Perdita promptly drowns herself after finding out about Raymond's death. This, in turn, renders their daughter Clara an orphan.
  • Downer Ending: In addition to being the last person alive and having a sheepdog as a companion, Lionel has no one of his kind to interact with anymore and even if he lives long enough, his race is doomed.
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  • Dwindling Party: A group of survivors attempt to travel to Switzerland as it's colder climate means that the plague would not be as contagious there. By the time they do reach there, only four of them are alive, and even then, three of them die not long after due to differing circumstances.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: Despite happening in the late 21st century, all European monarchies are still in place, the Ottoman Empire still exists, and so on.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Lionel was initially this to Adrian, with the second chapter detailing how the former deals with antagonistic thoughts towards the latter before the two actually meet up and befriend one another.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The title is about the last remaining human in the world, who turns out to be Lionel by the end of the story. The book chronicles Lionel's life from teenhood (with some background information on his childhood being explained beforehand) up until he's what remains of human civilization.
  • Last of His Kind: The very title invokes this. True to its word, Lionel becomes the very last remaining member of the Human race by the end of the story.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Lionel himself is a stand-in for Mary Shelley. Adrian and Lord Raymond were respectively based on Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Lionel and Perdita's parents died when they were very young. The lack of parental discipline and control results in the two becoming rather unruly and socially chaotic in nature throughout their childhood and early teen years.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Both of Lionel's sons, Alfred and Evelyn, die during the exile's trip to Switzerland, Alfred first followed by Evelyn after contacting with typhus.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The story takes place in the late 21st Century, but as this was written in the early 19th Century, there is very little, if any, advancement shown regarding technology, common knowledge, social norms and political understanding.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Perdita commits suicide by throwing herself off a ship, unable to live out her life without Raymond. Later on, Clara and Adrian drown to death in an unexpected storm at the Adriatic Sea while trying to travel to Greece.
  • Walking the Earth: After losing Clara and Adrian in a flash flood during a sudden storm and making it to Raveena, Lionel decides to spend the remainder of his life travelling around Europe and Africa with an accompanying sheepdog.


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