Classic Author Focus: Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

It should be obvious why I picked Mary Shelley for my focus post this month, as her most famous work is the Gothic horror novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, so, totally appropriate for October. Mary Shelley was an English novelist who had a rather exciting life for an early 19th century woman writer.

First of all, she had distinguished parents in the literary world. Her mother was the famous philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her father was the political philosopher William Godwin. Her mother, unfortunately, died within a month of her birth, and although her father gave her an informal education, when he remarried (when she was four), her stepmother sent her stepsister by Godwin’s first marriage to school but considered it unnecessary for Mary.

In any case, the Godwin household was visited by distinguished guests such as Wordsworth and Coleridge while she was growing up. One of Godwin’s students was Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was married when he and teenage Mary (and her teenage stepsister Claire) ran off together to Europe. Within two years, and after the death of her first child, Mary and her husband participated in the famous rainy day when Lord Byron challenged all of them to write a horror story. The result, as we all know, was Frankenstein, which was published in 1819.

Mary had a difficult but short marriage to Shelley full of adultery, child deaths, and illness (tuberculosis and possibly delusions on the part of her husband). He was almost certainly having an affair with both Claire and Mary before their marriage, and they were not able to marry until two years after their elopement, when his wife committed suicide. Then Shelley drowned while out sailing in 1822.

Although Mary was known until the 1970’s for writing Frankenstein and publishing her husband’s works, she worked hard to support her family, writing several historical novels, an apocalyptic novel, some biographies, and travel books.

Shelley died of brain cancer in London.

Dates: 1797-1851

Most popular work: Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

Other works: History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, Mathilda, Valpurga, or the Live and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca, The Last Man, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, and others

11 thoughts on “Classic Author Focus: Mary Shelley

  1. Great post! I am reading Frankenstein right now and totally under its spell. Mary Shelley had a wonderful pedigree in her literary and erudite parents. I am totally blown away by the fact that she wrote Frankenstein when she was just 18. That is amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

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