We must celebrate Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley this month, the great author of her most famous novel, Frankenstein. She was born August 30, 1797. She gave us the first monster, a monster that came to her in nightmarish images. Shelley could often be found reading by her mother’s grave and daydreaming helped her escape how things changed after her mother’s death and having a stepmother that presented challenges.
The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was a devoted student of her father’s, became enamored with Mary though he was still married. They fled together from England during the year of 1814 which alienated her from her father for a while and they eventually married.
Mary had many heartaches in life. Besides losing her mother, she lost a baby girl in 1815. She also suffered the loss of her half-sister, Fanny, who committed suicide. There was the death of two more children and there was only one child to survive to adulthood, her son, Percy Florence. In 1822 her husband drowned while sailing with a friend. She was only aged 24 then.
When friends at the residence of Lord Byron gathered in Switzerland one summer, all those visiting agreed to write a ghost story which is when Mary began her work on Frankenstein.
Several previous experiences and her background gave much material, a fertile bed, for forming the story of Frankenstein and becoming a writer. Society then resembled suburbs but crime was high and children could not play outside. Roads were unlit. Her parents believed that where and when a child is born affects his or her life chances. They were truly social revolutionaries and both writers (Sampson, p.17)
In addition, Mary grew up with frequent visitors of her father’s, one being Sir Humphrey Davy, who was famous for scientific experiments, including electrical galvanism. Also, during her growth, Italian discoverer Luigi Galvani’s nephew Giovanni Aldini, applied electrical currents to a deceased animal that became animated by quivering, one eye opened, and its jaws became horribly contorted. Even legs and thighs moved and its right hand raised up clenching. These contacts in her background and life with her parents, all became enticing food for thought for Mary (Sampson).
She worked to support herself and her son writing other novels and promoting her husband’s poetry. Mary died at age 53 in London.
Frankenstein, her greatest work, was a classic tale of a man-made monster who struggled with his creator over his existence. There have been several film adaptations of Frankenstein. If you haven’t read this wonderful horror novel or seen it on film, I suggest you make August 30th a day to begin reading and watching one of the greatest horror stories of all. We can be thankful for the first monster she created for us and we should give her all the accolades we can for such a wonderful novel. Happy Birthday, Mary Shelley, and thank you.
“Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave” From Frankenstein (Reef, opening page)
In Search of Mary Shelley — The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Sampson, Profile Books, LTD, Britain 2018
Mary Shelley, Biography.com
The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator Mary Shelley, Catherine Reef, Clarion Books, New York, NY, 2018