Mary Shelley’s Biography

Mary Shelley Biography:

Early Life of Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Mary Shelley’s name before marriage) was born on 30th August 1797 to eminent parents, residents of London, England. Her father William Godwin was a renowned philosopher and political journalist.

Her mother Mary Wollstonecraft was the foremost feminist thinker of her times. However, Mary Wollstonecraft died after ten days of conceiving her daughter. She had another daughter – Fanny, born out of an affair with Gerald Imlay, a soldier. Hence, after her death, Mary Godwin and Fanny were left to the responsibility of William Godwin.

Victorian Author - Mary Shelley's Portrait
Victorian Author – Mary Shelley’s Portrait

William Godwin courted a number of women so the girls would have a new mother. He married Mary Jane Clairmont in 1801 who came with two daughters of her own – Charles and Jane.

The stepmother did not encourage Mary’s intelligence and curiosity and hence deprived her of going to school. Mary was a bright child who could “scribble pages” at a very tender age. Even though she wasn’t sent to school, Mary was taught to read and write at home.

Her receptive mind fascinated her father William Godwin who gave her access to his extensive library of English Authors. Therefore, Mary spent most of her time reading and learning new books.

Mary Shelley Biography

He also allowed to her sit in a corner and listen to his scientific, political and philosophical discussions between him and his friends who included eminent people such as William Wordsworth, Charles and Mary Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Hazlitt. Music lessons from a music master were the only formal training Mary received.

Mary was much of a rival with her stepmother as she found her stepmother to be everything her own mother was not- manipulative, deceitful and immodest.

Mary also held her stepmother responsible for separating her father from her as William Godwin spent most of his time in his study. Thus, he left all household responsibilities to his wife. Mary was often found reading, by her mothers grave.

To escape from her challenging daily life, she daydreamed and used her imagination, hence, enhancing her creativity and innovative skills.

Mary Shelly: Parents

William Godwin (Father): 3rd March 1756- 7th April 1836

William Godwin was born in Cambridgeshire, England. He was a social philosopher, political journalist, and religious protester. He anticipated in the English Romantic Movement by proposing his ideology of atheism and personal freedom.

He argued that social institutions fail because they make people believe in unrealistic and predetermined ideas, which make it impossible to see things as they are.

William Godwin's Potrait
William Godwin’s Portrait- Mary’s father

His most influential writings are The Enquirer (1797), a collection of essays; Of Population (1820), a reply to Thomas Malthus’s writings on the subject; Thoughts on Man: His Nature, Production, and Discoveries(1831); and his widely acclaimed ideological novel, Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794).

He was married to Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797. In 1801, he married Mary Jane Clairmont with whom opened a publishing firm in Somers Town, London called M.Godwin & Co. and a shop retailing children’s books.

Mary Wollstonecraft (Mother): April 27, 1759 – September 10, 1797

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (married name of the mother of Mary Shelley) was an English author and a determined advocate of educational and social equality for women.

She brought more focus on female independence. Her father was a farmer. She was a teacher at schools and also worked as a governess wherein she had experiences that cultivated her views on women development.

She wrote the Thoughts on the Education of Daughters in 1787. In 1788 she was employed as a translator for a London publisher James Johnson, who published several of her works, including the novel Mary: A Fiction (1788). Her most noticeable work- A Vindication of the rights of women, is a plea for equality of men and women in the society.

In the year 1792, Wollstonecraft left for Paris to examine the French Revolution where she stayed with an American Captain, Gerald Imlay. Out of an affair with him, she gave birth to a daughter – Fanny in 1794.

She returned to England and joined the radical group of thinkers which included William Godwin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Holcroft, William Blake and William Wordsworth.

William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft announced their marriage March 29, 1797, when Mary was pregnant. She gave birth to her daughter – Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and passed away in the following 11 days out of puerperal fever.

Mary Shelley: Husband

Percy Bysshe Shelley August 4, 1792 – July 8, 1822

A young English Romantic Poet – Percy Shelley was born in Sussex, England. He did his education from Syon House Academy. He wrote two Gothic novels and two juvenile volumes. Shelley entered the Oxford University in the fall of 1810.

In 1811, Shelley along with a fellow junior Thomas Jefferson Hogg published a pamphlet – The Necessity of Atheism which led them both to be expelled from the University. He was frowned upon by his family for getting expelled.

Things went all the more haywire when he married Harriet Westbrook and took her and her sister Eliza to Ireland with him while he was barely 19 years old.

He published and distributed more of his pamphlets in Ireland. He moved to Wales to support William Madocks socialist party and then fled to London. His marriage started to fail when Harriet started to lose interest in spirituality.

Shelley was a follower of William Godwin, he visited Godwin’s house for dinner where he met Mary who was then 15. Shelley was attracted to Mary and started to connect with her.

By this time, William Godwin was financially dependent on Shelley. Mary and Shelley went to Mary’s mothers grave together. This was where they declared their love for each other.

Mary Shelley’s Work

Mary started writing at roughly the age of 17. She wrote juvenile letters to Shelley which he could not read since Mary left them all at Switzerland, while she traveled with her stepsister Jane.

Shelley always encouraged Mary to write but never saw her as an equal but as a mentor. Mary’s diaries and letters home became the basis of her book called History of A Six Weeks Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, with Letters Descriptive of a Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni. This was published in 1817.

Mary’s sister Jane (now known as Claire) met Lord Byron and became his lover in 1816 in London where she lived with Mary and Percy Shelley. Mary gave birth to Percy’s premature daughter during this time.

The child passed away and Percy went away on another journey leaving Mary in extreme grief. After his return, he found himself in the company of Lord Byron who he was very much fond of.

Mary Shelley Frankenstein

Mary had a hard time dealing with her daughter’s death. She would have nightmares and would wake up in the middle of the night. These traumatic events of her life gave her an idea of writing books like Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.

Mary was an intensifying and accelerating woman. When she wrote Frankenstein she included discoveries of scientific phenomena of her days. Mary founded the genre of science fiction.

The manuscripts of Mary’s writing were always edited by her husband Shelley who made a number of up-gradation. He changed Mary’s simple Anglo Saxon style into more Latinate and fancy.

He also made his own additions and alterations. Mary finished the book on 14 May and the novel was published in March 1818. At the same the Shelleys, Claire, and Mary went on writing Frankenstein for 9 months, the time she was pregnant and conceived a daughter- Clara Everina (2 September 1816).

At the same the Shelleys, Claire and she and Lord Byron’s daughter Allegra traveled to Italy to deliver the girl into Lord Byron’s care. Later, Allegra fell ill and needed her mother.

Hence, Shelley forced Mary to come along with him and Claire to Venice while Mary’s daughter too was sick. Nevertheless, they all traveled all the way to Venice with sick little where her condition worsened and Mary lost another child.

Shelley did not share her grief but instead left Mary in the company of her sister Claire. During this time, Mary wrote “Mathilda”, a father-daughter fantasy which showed the negativeness Mary was dealing with her father and her husband.

The following year of 1819, the Shelley’s moved to Florence where they had yet another child Percy Florence on November 12. This improved their relationship and brought them closer.

But again, conditions worsened when they moved to Pisa the next year, Mary began writing the ‘Valperga’. As Mary withdrew more and more from husband Shelley, she kept writing her novel of erotic love and eventually completed the second volume of the Valperga.

In the year 1822, Mary suffered the miscarriage of her fifth pregnancy. During this time in the city of La Spezia, Shelley set sail with Edward Williams in his boat ‘Don Juan’ which drowned by accident and was found after 10 days.

Thus, Mary lost her husband and was under mixed feelings of guilt and grief. She was not only blamed by Shelley’s friends but also by her own self. She took her son Percy Florence and moved back to London in 1823.

Mary started to idolize her dead husband and decided to carry on his work. She decided to publish his unfinished novels and poems, his biography as well. However, Percy’s father did not allow her to publish any biography of his son since he was ashamed of his prodigal son.

Mary Shelley Books

When they moved to London, Mary dedicated herself to writing poems, novels, reviews articles and encyclopedia stories. She stopped writing Gothic and progressive novels (what she was well known for) and turned more towards historical and emotional books set in the 14th century Italy – Valperga and 15th century England -Perkin Warbeck. Her writings such as the Mathilda,

She stopped writing Gothic and progressive novels (what she was well known for) and turned more towards historical and emotional books set in the 14th century Italy – Valperga and 15th century England -Perkin Warbeck.

Her writings such as the Mathilda, Faulkner, and Lodore were based on the fashionable world of the early 19th century.

The Valperga was published in 1823. It was an adventurous novel based on a real historical figure who conquered Florence. In February 1824, Mary began writing ‘The Last Man’, the plot of which revolved around characters from Mary’s real life, particularly her husband Percy Shelley and his friend Lord Byron.

Mary Shelley Children

The Last Man was the first novel ever written on the basis of the apocalypse set in the future. The lead character – Lionel Verney was more of an outlet of the devastation Mary went through when she lost her children and her husband.

She conjured the catastrophic side of motherhood, the loss of her own ideas and dreams after the growing and nourishment of children. In this deeply gloomy novel, a woman fails to find satisfaction with or without her family. The Last Man was published in 1826, it received a lot of criticism from people all over.

She conjured the catastrophic side of motherhood, the loss of her own ideas and dreams after the growing and nourishment of children. In this deeply gloomy novel, a woman fails to find satisfaction with or without her family. The Last Man was published in 1826, it received a lot of criticism from people all over.

Eventually, as modernization took place they started to accept her ideology. In 1828, she wrote ‘The fortunes of Perkin Warbeck’ which was set in the Yorkist rebellion. She wrote an Italian romance- The sisters of Albano, which was based on gender and class issues of her time.

She started writing the Lodore around the time of 1831, her publishers misplaced some of her notes and chaos was caused. Therefore, the Lodore which had a highly dramatic storyline that moved from Italy to

In 1828, she wrote ‘The fortunes of Perkin Warbeck’ which was set in the Yorkist rebellion. She wrote an Italian romance- The sisters of Albano, which was based on gender and class issues of her time.

She started writing the Lodore around the time of 1831, her publishers misplaced some of her notes and chaos was caused. Therefore, the Lodore which had a highly dramatic storyline that moved from Italy to Illinois to the Niagara Falls based on the lead character Lord Lodore had to be published in three volumes. Hence, it was published in 1835.

In 1837, Mary lost her father, William Godwin who suffered from catarrhal fever. Mary suffered greatly in the following years. She published a novel called Faulkner which was based on the father-daughter relationship she shared with William Godwin where she showed how a woman’s happiness depended on her family.

After this year, Mary started contributing to literature by writing essays on people like Voltaire, Rousseau, Pascal and many others in three volumes under the title “Lives of the Most Eminent Men of France”.

She also published some of her late husband’s work such as his poems and notes in the year 1839. In the following years, she spent most of her time traveling across Europe along with a son who was a graduate of the University of Cambridge.

She collected material and notes for her upcoming book – Rambles in Germany and Italy which was published in 1844.

Death of Mary Shelley

In the year 1844, Sir Timothy Shelley, father of Percy Shelley passed away leaving the entire estate and wealth to his daughter in law Mary Shelley and grandson Percy Florence.

They moved into their country home and were now settled down with Percy married to a woman named Jane. Seeing her son financially secure and settled Mary found no reason to live.

She became prey to various mental illnesses and often suffered nervous attacks. On February 1, 1851, Mary died of paralysis. She was buried between her the graves of her mother and father at St Pancras, Bournemouth.

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