Mary Shelley


"...yet still the words of the fiend rung in my ears like a death-knell, they appeared like a dream, yet distinct and oppressive as reality" (Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus)

Mary Shelley was the daughter of William Godwin, the foremost English writer on the French Revolution and his wife Mary Wollstonecraft. Her life was hard from the start, even before outrage at her nerve for publishing a book so scientifically dissident as Frankenstein while being a woman. Her mother - the author of the proto- feminist work Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) - died only days after Mary's birth. Even her name, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, showed the considerable intellectual weight placed on the young girl from the outset. It was a burden that she retained, eloping and subsequently marrying Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of the foremost Romantic poets.

Mary was educated at home by her father and, perhaps unsurprisingly, encouraged in literary pursuits and given considerable intellectual reading matter from Godwin's own library. Indeed, Godwin published Mary's light verses Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or the Discoveries of John Bull in a trip to Paris in 1808. It was on 11th November 1812 that Mary met Percy Shelley, then only twenty years old. Shelley was visiting her father (whom he admired) accompanied by his wife Harriet. They met again in May 1814. Mary was by this time seventeen and fascinated by Shelley. They were mutually attracted, and Shelley much admired her not only for her appearance and her parents' reputations, but also for her intellectual interests that far outweighed those of Harriet.

Mary and the Percy eloped on 28 July 1814 to a France still recovering from defeat in war. This period would provide material for Mary's second book, History of a Six Weeks' Tour Through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland. No doubt, it also inspired the brilliantly described and evocative landscapes of Frankenstein. The couple were ruined upon their return by disapproving parents on both sides who cut down their allowances until the creditors were upon them. Worse, Percy's second child by Harriet was born in November and Mary herself had become pregnant. She lost her child, Clara, mere weeks after her birth on 6 March 1815 and almost immediately became pregnant with William who was born in 1816. Shelley had become seriously ill, and only late in 1815 did he recover somewhat.

Between 1815 and 1819, Mary lost three of her four children. In the same period, Fanny Imlay and Harriet Shelley committed suicide, replacing the cold intellectual life of her youth with misery and death. Frankenstein, is a work centred around the concept of the family, albeit so often a failed one. Each unit, from the explorer with paternal reverence of Victor Frankenstein to Victor's own relationship with his creation represents a familial bond. Mary's fascination with scientific radicalism in the book brought her criticism and she was forced to bowdlerise her own book for later editions.

Subsequent works such as Mathilda (1819) and Valperga (1823), a 14th century romance, were less successful but are now finally receiving the critical acclaim that they deserved. The Last Man (1826) - tied up in the deaths of Shelley and Byron - is a particular success. It takes place on a vast scale and moves through the destruction of humanity by war and plague until only one man remains. A lesser work to the seminal Frankenstein it may be, but it is still an affecting and conceptually powerful book. Significantly, the deaths of the Byron and Shelley characters are not from the plague that wipes out the rest of humankind but follow the tragedies of their real lives. At the time, like many of Mary Shelley's works, it was mocked on the grounds of its author's gender ("The Last Woman" was the cruel and chauvinistic title of one review). Now, the fact that Mary's genius equalled that of her husband, father, and mother is finally being acknowledged. The shameful misrepresentation of her work is gradually being rewritten to credit her with her true place as a founding mother of science fiction and writer of considerable powers.

Links Guide to information about Mery Shelley and her novel Frankenstein. Includes literary source and biographies of Shelley, her husband Peray Bysshe and her parents
Douglas Clegg's e-book For more horror online, try this great free e-book by Douglas Clegg called "Purity"
home-1. Extensive resource dedicated to this gothic novelist and her works. Includes biographies of all her relatives

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