Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft

mary wollstonecraft shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s (1797-1851) work crosses over many genres (essays, biographies, short stories, and dramas) and often contain autobiographical elements. She came from an intellectual family of writers. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was well known for her feminist writings. Alas, she died ten days after giving birth to her namesake.

At age seventeen (1814), Mary and poet Percy Bysshe Shelley eloped to France, even though the former was married. When his wife committed suicide some two years later, Mary and Percy wed. The two had four children in total. three of whom died before age three.

In the midst of all her romantic and childbearing 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 is still widely read and studied today. And of course, it 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.

Mary’s own story took more tragic turns, as in 1822, on an ocean voyage, Percy Shelley’s craft was lost at sea; his body was recovered days later. Mary lived out her life with her one remaining son, Percy Florence Shelley, continuing to write novels, and editing volumes of her late husband’s poetry and letters. She died in London in 1850, at age 53.

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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Quotes

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley“The beginning is always today.”

“Live, and be happy, and make others so.”

“Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.”

“It is hardly surprising that women concentrate on the way they look instead of what is in their minds since not much has been put in their minds to begin with.”

“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… (From a journal entry, May 15, 1824)

“We never do what we wish when we wish it, and when we desire a thing earnestly, and it does arrive, that or we are changed, so that we slide from the summit of our wishes and find ourselves where we were.”

“Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.” (Frankenstein, 1818)

“Solitude was my only consolation – deep, dark, deathlike solitude.”

“The last man! Yes I may well describe that solitary being’s feelings, feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me …” (Journal entry on the writing of her science-fiction novel The Last Man, May 14, 1824)

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” (Frankenstein, 1818)

“I shall commit my thoughts to paper, it is true; but that is a poor medium for the communication of feeling. I desire the company of a man who could sympathize with me, whose eyes would reply to mine.” (Frankenstein, 1818)

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”

“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.” (Her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein)

“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.” (The Last Man, 1826)

“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” (Frankenstein, 1818) 

“. . . the companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds which hardly any later friend can obtain.”

“My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.”

“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.” (Frankenstein, 1818) 

“How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow.” (Frankenstein, 1818)

“I busied myself to think of a story, — a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name.” (Her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein)

“A human being in perfection ought always to preserve a calm and peaceful mind and never to allow passion or a transitory desire to disturb his tranquility. I do not think that the pursuit of knowledge is an exception to this rule. If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.”

“As a child I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to “write stories.” Still I had a dearer pleasure than this, which was the formation of castles in the air—the indulging in waking dreams—the following up trains of thought, which had for their subject the formation of a succession of imaginary incidents. My dreams were at once more fantastic and agreeable than my writings.” (Her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein)

“Seek happiness in tranquility and avoid ambition even if it be only the apparently innocent one of distinguishing yourself in science and discoveries.”

“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, and the to come is all my own.”

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