Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin on August 30, 1797 in Somers Town, London. Her mother, a feminist, philosopher, educator and writer died a month after Mary was born and her father, a philosopher, novelist and journalist was left to raise Mary and her half-sister Fanny Imlay. Mary’s mother left her a legacy of feminist ideas that were scandalous in the eighteenth century. Mary to some degree followed her mother’s teachings and actions throughout her own life.
Although William Godwin was almost always deeply in debt during Mary’s childhood he managed to provide his daughters with a rich, if informal, education encouraging her to adhere to his anarchist political theories. In December 1801, when Mary was four years old Godwin married a woman with two young children of her own. Mary quickly came to detest the woman as she felt as if the new wife favored her own children.
In June 1812 Godwin sent Mary to stay with a family in Scotland. Mary rejoiced in her spacious surroundings as well as the four daughters of her host. She returned to stay with the family for another 10 months the next summer where she credits the trees of the grounds and the bleak sides of the woodless mountains for giving birth to her airy flights of imagination.
Somewhere between 1813 and 1814 she met Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Mary and Percy had begun meeting secretly at her mother’s grave and fell in love. She was nearly 17 and he nearly 22. On June 26 1814 they declared their love for each other. Unfortunately because of Percy’s not being able to pay Godwin’s debts, Godwin disapproved of the relationship. The couple proceeded to run away to France taking Mary’s stepsister with them.
The trio travelled by donkey, mule and carriage through war ravaged France into Switzerland. When they reached Lucerne, due to lack of money they were forced to turn back and arrived in Gravesend, Kent on September 13, 1814.
Sometime during their journey Mary became pregnant and penniless. Mary’s father refused to have anything to do with her. February 1815 she gave birth to a two months premature baby girl. After the death of her child she was haunted by nightmares and became severely depressed, but did conceive again by summer.
With an upturn in their finances the trio rented a cottage at Bishopsgate. In January 1816 she gave birth to her second child. In May of that same year the trio travelled to Geneva to spend the summer with Lord Byron, as they believed that Claire was pregnant with Lord Byron’s child.
It is on this trip that the challenge of writing a ghost story was presented and Frankenstein was born. It started out as a short story, but Percy encouraged her to expand it into her first novel: Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus.
Once they returned to England, they got word that both Mary’s half sister Fanny and Percy’s wife committed suicide. In an effort to gain custody of Percy’s children by his first wife, Mary and Percy finally wed. Unfortunately they did not get custody of the children. In January Claire gave birth to a girl and in September Mary gave birth to a girl. Summer of 1817 Mary finished Frankenstein and in 1818 it was published anonymously and everyone assumed that Percy had written it since he was known to have contributed to it and wrote the preface to the first edition. Differences were discovered in the two later editions that in some people’s minds supported this claim.
Living in fear of debtors and losing their children, the Shelly’s moved to Italy in March 1818.
Mary lost both of her children, her daughter in 1818 and her son in 1819. She spiraled into a deep depression and isolated herself from Percy. Her only comfort was her writing and the birth of her fourth child in late 1819.
The Percy’s celebrated political freedoms that were unattainable in England. While here she experienced a great time of creative activity writing the novels Matilda, and Valperga, along with the plays Proserpine and Midas.
In summer of 1822 a pregnant Mary moved to an isolated villa on the edge of the Bay of Lerici. She lost her baby and almost her life when she miscarried. Percy and Mary’s relationship was strained and he spent time with other women or sailing in the bay. Percy was killed in a sailing accident on July 8.
For the rest of her life Mary returned to England and resolved to live by her pen and for her only remaining son. For a short time she lived with her father and step-mother until her father-in-law agreed to a small stipend for her son.
She continued to write, editing the poems of Lord Byron and Percy. In 1824 she wrote The Last Man and assisted friends in writing memoirs of Byron and Percy.
Between 1827—40 she wrote the novels: The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, Lodore, and Falkner.
She contributed to five volumes about Spanish, Portuguese and French authors as well as writing stories for woman’s magazines and helping to support her father’s publishing endeavors. She sold the copywright to a new addition of Frankenstein. She attempted to assemble her father’s letters and memoir, but after two years of work abandoned the project.
In 1837 a publisher proposed publishing a collected works of Percy Shelley and Mary edited it. Her father-in-law insisted that there be no biography of Percy so Mary found a way to tell the story of his life with extensive biographical notes about the poems.
Other men came and left her life, but she never remarried as her first concern was her son. In 1840 and 1842 mother and son travelled together on the continent and Mary recorded their journeys in Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843.
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