English Literature
Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

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The Enigmatic Mary Shelley: The Creator of Frankenstein

The name Frankenstein has been synonymous with fear and horror, captivating readers and movie-goers for generations. If the author of this iconic work were alive today, she would likely be a successful billionaire due to the immense popularity of her novel and its numerous film adaptations. But who exactly was the enigmatic Mary Shelley, and how did she manage to craft such a timeless and terrifying masterpiece at the young age of 19?

Timeline of Mary Shelley's Life

To fully understand Mary Shelley, we must delve into her family history. She was the daughter of two remarkable individuals, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who were considered radicals with strong beliefs about a better and more liberated world. Godwin, a political philosopher, was known for his book "Enquiry Concerning Political Justice" (1793), while Wollstonecraft gained fame for her book "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (1792). Interestingly, neither of them believed in traditional marriage - Godwin even advocated for its abolition, along with government. However, they ended up getting married in 1797 to protect their child, Mary, who was born a few months later.

Early Influences on Mary Shelley

Tragically, Mary never got the chance to meet her mother, as she passed away just ten days after giving birth. In the months following her death, Godwin wrote a biography titled "Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" (1798), through which Mary was able to get to know her mother through her written words. During her childhood, Mary was also exposed to the intellectual and literary world through notable visitors to the Godwin household, such as the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However, after her father's remarriage and the addition of a stepfamily, Mary often felt isolated and struggled to connect with her stepmother, who did not possess the same intellectual capacity as her father or mother.

Mary Shelley's Life

Struggling with her family's discord, Mary's father sent her to stay with relatives in Scotland. Despite a difficult journey, Mary enjoyed her time there and even returned for a second visit. It was on her second trip that she met Percy Bysshe Shelley, a follower of her father's philosophies. Despite Shelley being married, their companionship and shared love for literature drew them together. The two often visited Mary's mother's tomb, and it was there that they revealed their feelings for each other in 1814.

With the support of her father's previous beliefs in free love, Mary and Shelley shared their love with him. However, even the progressive Godwin was taken aback and expressed his disapproval, stating, "…On Sunday, June 26, he accompanied Mary, and her sister Jane Clairmont, to the tomb of Mary’s mother...and there it seems the impious idea first occurred to him of seducing her, playing the traitor to me, and deserting his wife" (William Godwin, Letter to John Taylor, Aug 27, 1814). Despite objections from her father, Mary, Shelley, and her stepsister Jane (known as Claire) Clairmont, fled to Calais together.

Mary Shelley's Turbulent Journey to Literary Success

Mary Shelley, accompanied by her lover Percy Shelley and her stepsister Jane, eloped to France in 1814, leaving behind her disapproving stepmother. However, their hasty decision brought uncertainty and financial struggles upon the trio, forcing them to constantly travel on foot. After their return to London, they found themselves in dire need of money as Shelley's bank account had been drained by his estranged wife, and both Mary's father and Percy's father refused further support due to their strained relationship.

Despite these challenges, the Shelleys' financial situation slightly improved after Percy's grandfather passed away, allowing them to temporarily settle in London. However, in 1815, Mary gave birth to a premature daughter who sadly did not survive. This loss took a toll on their relationship, while Jane grew closer to Percy, leading to her being sent away to stay with friends. The following year, Mary gave birth to a son, and Percy wrote his renowned poem 'Alastor, or Spirit of Solitude'. That summer, the Shelleys traveled to Switzerland and joined Lord Byron, along with Jane, who had become his mistress. It was during this stay at Lake Geneva that Mary Shelley began writing her most famous work, Frankenstein.

The Birth of Frankenstein

During the summer of 1816, the Shelleys and Byron engaged in discussions about philosophy, the principle of life, and ghost stories. They even had a friendly writing competition to see who could write the most terrifying tale. Mary described the process as a night filled with uncontrollable imagination, vivid visions, and a breakthrough that led her to think, "I have found it! What scared me on that night will surely terrify others." The next day, she announced that she had a story in mind, and that is how Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein.

By 1817, Mary completed the story of Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. It is evident that she was well-versed in the scientific advancements of her time, as seen in her use of galvanism to bring Frankenstein's Creature to life. This makes Frankenstein a groundbreaking work of science fiction rather than gothic fantasy. The creation of the Creature was not through mystical means, but rather a result of Frankenstein's scientific research and approach.

Mary Shelley's Other Works

In 1819, Mary Shelley completed another book titled Mathilde, which was only published after her death. The novella revolves around a tragic actress who lives in a world of make-believe. While some may argue that it draws elements from Mary's own life, recent critics suggest that it should not be seen as an autobiography. Additionally, both Frankenstein and Mathilde contain elements of prophecy, with the death of the father in Mathilde mirroring Percy's own suicide by drowning. In Frankenstein, the Creature commits murder, foreshadowing the death of Shelley's son William from malaria, a year after the book's publication.

The Legacy of Mary Shelley

Despite facing personal struggles and societal criticisms, Mary Shelley persevered and went on to become one of the most influential and celebrated authors in literary history. Her works continue to captivate readers and inspire new generations, solidifying her place as a pioneer in the genres of science fiction and gothic literature.

The Life and Literary Works of Mary Shelley

In 1819, the Shelleys resided in Florence and welcomed their only surviving child, Percy Florence, in November. They later moved to Casa Magni in Lerici, where tragedy struck in June of 1822 when Mary suffered a miscarriage. Thanks to her husband's bravery, she was saved, but their happy times were short-lived. In August of that same year, Shelley drowned in a sailing accident, leaving Mary to care for their son alone. She returned to London, grieving and struggling financially.

Determined to honor her husband's memory, Mary worked on publishing a collection of his poems. However, her father-in-law strongly opposed her efforts. Despite their disagreements, he provided financial support for their grandson's upbringing. As a naturally reserved person, Mary withdrew from society and published two novels, Valperga in 1823 and The Last Man in 1826.


In Valperga, Mary explores medieval Italy during a war between the Ghibellines and the Guelphs. The story follows the Byronic Prince Castruccio and his relationships with two women, Euthanasia and Beatrice. Euthanasia embodies Mary's ideals of "rational feminism," while Beatrice is a victim of witchcraft. The novel also hints at Mary's struggles with depression, a theme she continued to explore in her later works.

The Last Man

In The Last Man, Mary delves into the science fiction genre, exploring a dystopian world ravaged by a cholera outbreak. The story follows a small group of survivors in search of a community, but they soon discover they may be the last people alive. This novel is heavily influenced by Mary's personal experiences, including the loss of her husband and two children. It also explores the dynamics of power, both socially and emotionally, through the contrasting characters of Adrian and Raymond.

Although not as well-known as Frankenstein, The Last Man is recognized as Shelley's second most notable work and a precursor to modern apocalyptic fiction. Interestingly, all of Mary's novels contain dream sequences, adding an eerie and prophetic element to the stories. In Frankenstein, the main character has a dream about his deceased mother, while in The Last Man, a character has a dream about searching for a friend, only to find him transformed into a nightmarish figure.

Other Works

In addition to her novels, Mary also wrote travelogues and biographies of famous authors such as Cervantes, Machiavelli, and Moliere. She also wrote a historical romance, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, in 1830, and a family drama, Lodore, in 1834. In 1844, she published a travel memoir, Rambles in Germany and Italy. That same year, her father-in-law passed away, and her son inherited the family estates, which were heavily in debt. In 1849, Mary and her son moved to Field Place, the Shelley family's ancestral home.


In 1851, after a brief illness, Mary Shelley passed away and was laid to rest next to her parents in St Peter's churchyard in Bournemouth. Her most renowned work, Frankenstein, continues to be her lasting legacy. As Anne Mellor notes, her writings serve as a cautionary tale about the harmful effects of a capitalist society, a theme that still resonates today (Anne Kostelanetz Mellor, Mary Shelley, Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, 1988).

In Conclusion

Mary Shelley's life was marked by tragedy, but she persevered and left behind a remarkable literary legacy. Her works touch on a variety of themes, from feminism and power dynamics to science fiction and dystopia. Yet, it is her timeless tale of a forsaken child, much like herself, that continues to captivate readers and serve as a warning against the dangers of ambition and greed.

Mary Shelley: A Life Shaped by Tragedy and Triumph

Mary Shelley's life was marked by extraordinary events that ultimately shaped her into the renowned writer she is known as today. Born in 1797 as Mary Godwin, she tragically lost her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, only ten days after her birth. In 1814, Mary and her lover Percy Shelley eloped to Europe, accompanied by her step-sister Jane (also known as Claire Clairmont). Four years later, after the death of Percy's first wife Harriet, Shelley and Mary married. It was during their trip to Geneva in 1816 that Mary began writing her most famous work, Frankenstein. Published in 1818, the novel brought great success and acclaim to Mary Shelley.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck once again in 1822 when Percy Shelley drowned in the Bay of Lerici. Mary returned to England and continued to write, but she was unable to find the same level of success as she did with Frankenstein. In 1851, at the age of 53, Mary Shelley passed away and was laid to rest next to her parents in the St Peter's churchyard in Bournemouth.

Mary Shelley: A Pioneering Gothic Novelist

Mary Shelley was a renowned novelist during the Romantic Gothic era, creating some of the most beloved works of that time. Undoubtedly, her most famous work is Frankenstein, published in 1818. Not only did her writing bring her fame, but her marriage to the poet Percy Shelley also caused quite a scandal. But what motivated Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein? The idea for the novel came from a writing competition hosted by Lord Byron, who challenged the group to create a ghost story.

The Final Resting Place of Mary Shelley

After a life filled with love, loss, and literary achievements, Mary Shelley was laid to rest in St Peter's churchyard, Bournemouth. This beautiful seaside town was the final resting place for not only Mary but also her beloved parents. Their graves stand side by side, commemorating the life and legacy of one of the most influential writers of her time.

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