Full Name: Mary Shelley
Birth Date: August 30, 1797
Death Date: February 1, 1851
Location: Somers Town, London, England, UK
Monument Type: Historic/Residence
On August 30, 1797, the author of Frankenstein was born as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Mary’s mother was the famed intellectual, Mary Wollstonecraft. Wollstonecraft had penned A Vindication in the Rights of Women in 1792. Wollstonecraft had a child, Frances, also known as Fanny, with an American man out of wedlock in 1794. Wollstonecraft fell in love with William Godwin, a philosopher, who was Mary’s father; they married in late March 1797. In less than two weeks after the birth of the future science fiction writer, Wollstonecraft would no longer be alive. The future for the child looked bleak. Yet Mary mustered strength and lived on. Mary was resilient.
Mary’s girlhood provided a context for her trajectory as a writer. Mary’s father would remarry; Mary was still a young child when this happened. Mary Jane Clairmont already had two children, and in 1803, another child was added to the household. Mary and her stepmother did not have a great relationship. Tensions flared. She experienced eczema. She spent time away from the family as she went to a school in Ramsgate. After Ramsgate did not provide the solution to her health, Mary eventually would be captivated by the milieu provided by Scotland, which buttressed her body and mind.
As a teenager, Mary became absorbed in a passionate romance. The man was Percy Shelley, a poet, who was already in his twenties and also married. Much to the displeasure of her father, Mary ran off with Percy Shelley. Their time traveling throughout Europe, accompanied by her stepsister, during the summer of 1814 provided the foundation for A History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817). But the publication that Mary is most famous for is Frankenstein. The roots of the story were laid in the summer of 1816, while she and Percy were in Switzerland, fraternizing with Lord Byron and John Polidori. The story would reach the masses in January 1818. Today, students all over the world read Frankenstein, which many consider to be an early work of science fiction.
Tragedy was a constant force in Mary’s life. Only one of Mary’s children would enter adulthood. Percy Shelley would tragically die in 1822. Mary would live on until 1851.
Gordon, Charlotte. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley. New York: Random House, 2015.
“Mary Wollstonecraft.” Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/mary-wollstonecraft-shelley