SHELLEY, Mary Wollstonecraft

(1797 - 1851)
"My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings"

Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of the liberal political philosopher William Godwin and proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Such a heritage meant she was raised in an environment which encouraged her to think and to write, both of which were unusual by the standards of her time.  Her mother died whilst Mary was in her infancy, so she was brought up by her father who provided her with an extensive liberal education.  In 1814, when she was only 17 she met and fell in love with the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was already married.  Never one to let convention stand in the way of passion, she left her home and travelled to France with Shelley, touring the country for two months until forced to return to England by lack of funds, only to face ostracism and debt.  In 1816 they joined Lord Byron at Lake Geneva with an aim to talk of philosophy and to write.  Famously, one evening the friends discussed ghost stories and each determined to write a tale of horror to amuse the others.  For Mary, what started as a short story became, with Shelley’s encouragement, the quintessential novel of Gothic horror that is Frankenstein ; or the Modern Prometheus, published in 1818.   Mary’s novel was unusual for its genre, by concerning itself less with haunted castles and ghastly ruins and more with modern science and the hubris of man.

 Mary and Shelley married after the suicide of his wife in 1816, but their life together was marred by tragedy, losing three of their four children and Shelley himself dying in a boating accident in 1822.  She spent much of the remainder of her life writing further novels and protecting her husband’s literary legacy.

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