Spotlight On: Mary Shelley

Hi everyone,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on here (I’m hoping to do and update soon enough as things have been a little hectic around here of late…).

Today I’m back on the blog with a new series that I’m calling “Spotlight On: (*insert favourite authors here*)” where I will dive into the lives and works of some of my favourite authors in the hopes of maybe helping myself and you all to understand their writing a little more!

We’re starting today with quite a seasonally appropriate writier: Mary Shelley. Mary Shelley has been one of my favourite authors ever since I read Frankenstein and started to understand more of her life.

This blog post will be broken up into 6 different parts.

  1. A little bit about their life
  2. Their works I have read
  3. Their works I am yet to read
  4. Great film/TV adaptations based on their writing
  5. Quotes
  6. An author biography recommendation

A Little Bit About Their Life

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in 1797 in North West London. Her father was the radical philosopher William Godwin. Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, the famous author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (pitted as one of the first feminist books ever!) Mary Wollstonecraft died days after the birth of Mary Shelley. Her father was left to care for her and her sister, Fanny Imlay, who was Wollstonecraft’s daughter from an affair she had with a soldier.

The family dynamic completely changed when her father got re-married to Mary Jane Clairmont in 1801. Mary Jane already had two children, and she and Godwin later had a son together. Mary and her stepmom never got along; Mary Jane decided that while her own daughters deserved the right to be educated, that right never spread to Mary Shelley.

William Godwin described his daughter as “very intelligent” and “singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind”. Although Mary Shelley was not sent with her half-sisters to be educated, her father gave her an informal education, offering up his library to her and training her to become a writer. Her father often had distinguished guests like Samuel Taylor Coleride and William Wordsworth round the house.

Mary Shelley could often be found in her father’s library, looking for new books and then reading them by her mother’s grave. Mary also loved the escapism that writing gave her: according to The Life and Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft, she said that “As a child, I scribbled; and my favourite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to ‘write stories.'” She published her first poem, “Mounseer Nongtongpaw,” in 1807, through her father’s company.

At the age of 16, Mary eloped to Italy with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (and her step-sister Jane Clairmont) whilst Percy was still married to his first wife. Mary’s actions of elopement alienated her from her father who did not speak to her for a considerable amount of time. Percy and Mary married in 1816 after the suicide of his first wife; they had several children together but only one survived.

One summer, the Shelley’s, Jane Clairmont, Lord Byron and John Polidori were in Switzerland. The group entertained themselves one rainy day by reading a book of ghost stories. Lord Byron suggested that they all should try their hand at writing their own horror story. It was at this time that Mary Shelley began work on what would become her most famous novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.

Later that year, Mary suffered the loss of her half-sister Fanny who committed suicide.

She published a travelogue of their escape to Europe, History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817), while continuing to work on her soon-to-famous monster tale. In 1818, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus debuted as a new novel from an anonymous author. Everyone thought that Percy Bysshe Shelley had written it; he penned its introduction and of course, how on earth could a female write such a scary and fantastically thrilling novel?

The marriage of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley was not the easiest – instead, it was fraught with adultery and heartache, including the death of more of their children. The only child of Percy and Mary’s to live to adulthood was Percy Florence.

In 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowened off the Gulf of Spezia and Mary was made a widow at the age of 24. Thrust into this new situation, Mary Shelley worked incredibly hard to support herself and her son, writing two more novels (The Last Man and Valperga). She also devoted herself to promoting her husband’s poetry and preserving his place in literary history.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley died on 1st February 1851, at the age of 53 of brain cancer. She was laid to rest at St. Peter’s Church in Bournemouth with the remains of her late-husband’s heart. After her death, her son Percy and daughter-in-law Jane had Mary Shelley’s parents exhumed from St. Pancras Cemetery in London (which had fallen into neglect over time) and had them reinterred beside Mary at the family’s tomb in St. Peter’s in Bournemouth.


Works I Have Read

I have read Frankenstein and Mathilda by Mary Shelley.

I do find that it is quite difficult to get some of her lesser known works as a few of them aren’t widely published.


Works I Am Yet to Read

On my shelf at the moment, I have The Last Man by Mary Shelley to read.

I still need to locate and buy Valperga, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, Lodore, Falkner: A Novel, and I would also love to read her travel diaries from Germany, France and Italy.

If you have any idea where I could buy any of these lesser known books by her, please let me know! Hoping I don’t have to sell my organs in order to be able to afford them.


Great Film and TV Adaptations

Frankenstein (1930), Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939).

Young Frankenstein (1974) starring Gene Wilder.

Victor Frankenstein (2015) starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy.

The Frankenstein Chronicles is a TV show loosely based on the story.


Quotes

“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
“There is love in me the likes of which you’ve never seen. There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape. If I am not satisfied int he one, I will indulge the other.” – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

A Biography Recommendation

If you want to read more about Mary Shelley’s interesting life and what inspired her to write perhaps one of the most famous (and first!) science-fiction novels ever, I would recommend reading “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon” (this focuses on the lives of Mary Shelley and her mother). I would also recommend “In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Sampson” and “Young Romantics: The Shelley’s, Byron’s and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay” if you want to get an idea of her role within her friendship group and in what ways she was inspired by them.

 


Thanks for reading! If you have any recommendations of authors you’d like me to focus on next, let me know in the comments below! I have a lot of ideas already.

 

Love, Zoë xx


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