Mary Shelley is most famously known for her novel Frankenstein, a novel she wrote after a discussion with some friends on a camping trip. The group of friends were talking about the idea of life and death and what would happen if they could create life. This conversation inspired her to write the book, Frankenstein. The novel was first published anonymously in 1818, but later became known as one of the most influential novels ever written. It has since been translated into over 100 languages and has never gone out of print.
Yet most of her fame didn’t come until after her death, with her life primarily being overshadowed by that of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelly, and family tragedy.
The Life of Mary Shelley
Born August 30th, 1797 Mary was the daughter of William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Her mother died in the aftermath of giving birth. Along with her father, she grew up with a half-sister, stepmother, stepbrother, and stepsister. Mary and her stepmother Mary Jane had a turbulent relationship. The consensus is that Mary Jane was most likely jealous of the close relationship between Mary and her father.
In 1812, the young Mary met Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Harriet. It wasn’t long before Mary and Percy’s affections for each other blossomed and they were found out. Percy left his wife (who would later commit suicide), and in 1814, the two ran off to France together. Mary and Percy would become vagabonds moving from one place to another, along with Mary’s stepsister, Claire.
Mary would give birth to four children and miss-carry a fifth. Her first child was born prematurely and died. Her second child was born within a year of the death of her first and was 5 years old as she began writing Frankenstein. Her second child would also die later from malaria, while another would die from dysentery. Only one of her children would live into adulthood.
Mary Shelley’s career was regularly overshadowed during her life by her husband, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She married Percy a few weeks after his wife committed suicide and two months after the suicide of her half-sister. It was during this time that Mary would write her most famous novel. After eight years together, Percy Shelley drowned in 1822 when he was only 29 years old. The sailboat Percy owned sunk in a sudden storm, and his body would later wash up on shore. Mary never remarried.
In 1816, on a trip to Switzerland with a small group of English writers, Mary, and her friends were having a discussion of ghost stories. The group made an agreement to write stories of the supernatural. Most of the writers in the group would abandon the idea, but Mary would follow through, and Frankenstein was born.
Published in 1818, the novel tells the story of a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who is obsessed with the idea of creating life through science. His obsession results in the creation of life in a laboratory by assembling together different body parts from dead people. He does this without the help of his family or friends, making it seem like he has gone mad. The creature becomes so intelligent that he starts to question his creator’s intentions. Victor is unable to deal with the results of his creation and, in essence, creating a monster, not through technology but through his inability to cope with what he has done.
At the time the story was written, such stories were not all that common, especially from a female writer. The novel has been made into multiple movies, discussed and analyzed in extensive depth, and has resulted in an everlasting impact on the horror genre. Frankenstein has had a huge impact on science fiction as well as horror novels because it was one of the first works to deal with these genres as they are known today.
Mary continued to write throughout her life and published multiple books such as The Last Man, Mathilda, and various short stories. Yet, Frankenstein is the one that has had a lasting impression on every generation since its publication.
The Death of Mary Shelley
The last years of Mary’s life were filled with tragedy. She dealt with the death of her mother, half-sister, children, and the loss of her husband. As a result, Mary become very depressed, and it is really only through her one surviving child Percy that she was able to cope with such disasters. Mary also suffered from headaches and physical pains that prevented her from writing as often as she wished later in life.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley died in 1851 at the age of 53 and is now buried at St Peter’s Church, Bournemouth.