Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

mary wollstonecraft shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (August 30, 1797 – February 1, 1851), born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, was a British author whose work crossed several genres (essays, biographies, short stories, and dramas) and often contain autobiographical elements. She is best known for the classic thriller, Frankenstein.

Mary came from an intellectual family of writers. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was well known for her feminist writings., particularly A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Alas, she died ten days after giving birth to her namesake. Mary’s father was the political philosopher William Godwin.


Marriage to Percy Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley, the writer and poet, was a follower of her father’s. On July 28, 1814, 17-year-old Mary eloped to France with Shelley, even though he was already married. Her father heartily disapproved. When his wife committed suicide some two years later, Mary and Percy wed. They had five children in total, three of whom died before age three. Only one of their children outlived Mary.


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

See also: How Mary Shelley Came to Write Frankenstein


Frankenstein — her lasting legacy

In the midst of all her romantic turmoil, Mary Shelley created Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, one of the most memorable stories of all time. It was her first novel, published in 1818, when she was barely twenty-one; it’s still widely read and studied today.

Frankenstein has been referenced and reworked in numerous formats, though the Hollywood versions bare scant resemblance to the original. A novel filled with universal themes like creation, maternal instinct, and death, it’s a pioneer in the tradition of the Gothic novel. The struggle of good and evil lies at the root of the story.


Tragic turns

Mary’s own story took more tragic turns. In 1822, on an ocean voyage, Percy Shelley’s craft was lost at sea; his body was recovered days later. The loss was devastating. Mary returned to London the year after her husband died, lived out her life with her one remaining son, Percy Florence Shelley. In an 1824 journal entry she wrote: “At the age of twenty-six I am in the condition of an aged person — all my old friends are gone … & my heart fails when I think by how few ties I hold to the world…”

Mary he continued to write novels and other works, and edited volumes of her late husband’s poetry and letters. Perhaps she lived by the words in her novel, The Last Man (1826): “A truce to philosophy! — Life is before me, and I rush into possession. Hope, glory, love, and blameless ambition are my guides, and my soul knows no dread. What has been, though sweet, is gone; the present is good only because it is about to change … ”

Mary Shelley died from a brain tumor in London in 1850, at age 53. Her other novels and writings have received renewed interest and scholarship since the 1970s.


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