Mary Shelley, English Novelist
Mary Shelley, née Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin, was born on August 30, 1797 in Somers Town, London, England. Her father was philosopher William Godwin and her mother feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Tragically, her mother died just eleven days after Mary’s birth from complications, an event that weighed on Mary’s heart for the rest of her life. She grew up with her father and her older half-sister Fanny Imlay (whose mother was Mary Wollstonecraft though her father was a soldier with whom she had an affair), in the presence of many distinguished guests, including William Wordsworth. Though she was not formally educated, her father and his intellectual friends had a great influence on her, and she could often be found writing at her mother’s grave.
When she was 16, she met Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was a student of her father at the time. He praised Mary for ‘the irresistible wildness and sublimity of her feelings,’ and they eloped in Italy, although Shelley was already married. That year,1816, was called the Year Without a Summer due to the temperature abnormality that caused global temperatures to drop One June night had a large storm and eerie atmosphere, which served as the birthplace of “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”, as well as John Polidori’s “The Vampyre.” Her novel was heavily influenced by the scientific discoveries made in this period, especially Luigi Galvani’s experiments in electrophysiology, physics, and biology. She uses themes of parenthood, fear of others and responsibility, and warns of the thoughtless development of science past an ethical boundary. She was one of the most influential writers of the Romantic period, which was a group of authors in the 1800s who explored themes of nature vs. nurture, the sublime, and the natural world. Shelley described the book as her ‘hideous progeny’, but it was a masterpiece written during an extremely difficult time in her life.
While she was writing “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”, she tragically lost three children. Later in 1816, she married Percy Shelley after his first wife committed suicide. They struggled financially for many years despite their literary success because of his affinity for a lavish and bohemian lifestyle. They were also ostracised from society due to the scandal of their elopement while he was still married to his first wife, Harriet. A friend of the family, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, joked about “Shelley and his two wives”, as they lived with Mary’s sister, Claire Clairmont. There is no concrete proof of this, but there were rumours and speculation that Shelley was sexually involved with Claire whilst married to Mary and a short time after the death of their premature daughter.
Shelley died in 1822, widowing Mary at only 24. She went on to write “The Last Man”, “Valperga” and “Mathilde” and promoted her deceased husband’s work. At the time, many people claimed that Percy Shelley must have written “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus” as he gave the foreword, and it was supposedly too complex and sophisticated for a woman to be able to write. This prompted Mary to announce her authorship, as it was initially published anonymously due to the difficulties getting published as a woman. Mary Shelley died on February 1, 1851 in Chester Square, London from brain cancer, although her legacy lives on in her books, films, and the cultural impact of her writing.
by Daisy O’Connor
“Mary Shelley,” British Library, https://www.bl.uk/people/mary-shelley
“Mary Shelley,” Biography, https://www.biography.com/writer/mary-shelley
Lepore, Jill. “The Strange and Twisted Life of ‘Frankenstein,’” The New Yorker, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/12/the-strange-and-twisted-life-of-frankenstein