Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in London in 1797. As the daughter of the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and William Godwin, a political philosopher and an early anarchist proponent, Mary was born into a family that challenged social norms and encouraged innovative thinking. For much of her life she was haunted by the memory of her mother, who died soon after giving birth to her daughter. For Mary, her mother's death was a burden, and a source of blame and resentment by her father.
When Mary was sixteen years old she was introduced to Percy Bysshe Shelley, a poet, philosopher, and political disciple of Mary's father. Though Percy was already married at the time, he and Mary quickly fell in love and eloped to France. Subsequently, they were ostracized and ridiculed by Mary's family and the intellectual community in England. Mary and Percy's hopes for children proved increasingly bleak, as Mary suffered through numerous miscarriages and infant deaths. In 1822 Percy drowned off the coast of Italy, leaving her to care for their only surviving child, Percy Florence.
Eights years after her elopement, Mary returned to England, impoverished and socially embarrassed by the scandals of her unconventional life. She continued to work as a writer to support herself and her son, and she published poems, a mythological drama, short tales, encyclopedia articles, essays, reviews, travel books, and novels. Themes of isolation, terror, motherhood, and inadequacy permeate many of her works. Her greatest achievement was and still is considered to be Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (usually simplified to simply Frankenstein), which weaves together mythology, Biblical stories, science, the gothic genre, and Mary Shelley's own personal and literary history.
This article was originally published in November 2009, and has been updated for the
September 2010 paperback release.
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