Friday, February 13, 2009

Mary Shelley

So if you’ve followed the blog awhile, you probably know that I am a fan of the English poet, Percy Shelley. Did you know that he was married to Mary Shelley? “Well sure,” you say. “They have the same last name and all. Uh, so?”

For the longest time, I never realized that THE Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein was Percy Shelley’s wife. Interesting fact but her life is even more of a story. Yes, authors, truth is stranger than fiction. First, it hardly gets more bizarre than Mary’s mother’s maiden name, Wollestonecraft. If that’s your last name, I’m not saying it is bad, just that it’s a little unusual and long.

She was born in 1797 to a feminist and a radical anarchist philosopher. I wonder how the IRS would feel if I had listed that as my occupation on my 1040 yesterday? Needless to say, I suspect that her home growing up didn’t quite fit into the norm. Even if things were normal, she apparently did not receive much schooling.

Mary must not have cared for her home too much because at age 16, she eloped to Percy against her family’s wishes. Alas, Percy abandoned his wife, Harriett, for them to do so. Harriett then committed suicide killing not only herself but an unborn child. Mary’s father, William Godwin, disowned Mary, or he did until he needed a loan (true – anarchy doesn’t always pay well).

Mary and Percy had a child which died shortly after birth. Percy then drowned. Mary was only 24 and a widow.

Percy had told Mary to write. She and Percy lived in Switzerland for a time next to Lord Byron. What a neighborhood, huh? Anyway, they all sat around one evening composing ghost stories. Mary grew inspired and wrote Frankenstein that very night.

Mary never remarried despite numerous marriage proposals. When asked about it, she said, “I want to be Mary Shelley on my tombstone.” She died in 1851.

I’m sure you can wiki all sorts of extra facts. I gleaned most of this from the introduction found on my old Bantam Classic paperback of Frankenstein.


  1. OMG. You've got to be kidding. This could make a story in itself (and it probably has).
    And for the record, I think Wollestonecraft is pretty darned cool!

  2. Rumer has it that at Lord Byron's gatherings, the participants would swill in a laudenum induced haze as they wrote and shared their ghost stories. That brings an entire new level of darkness to Frankenstein, particulary when Shelly's charactor Victor Frankenstein takes laudenum to help him sleep after the death of his friend.

    I did always find Frankenstein quite dark, but I also enjoyed it immensely. I will abstain from the laudenum, however.

  3. PJ, maybe you can see if you can work a Wollestonecraft into your next book. Is it too late for The Navel of the World?

    I agree that she has quite a story. Someone needs to capture it in a novel if they haven't already. Anyone?

  4. Great comment, Mark. I didn't know that about the laudenum. That is very interesting, indeed. I, too, will abstain from any laudenum-ing.