The Creation of a Monster: Mary Shelley

We all know and love the novel Frankenstein. Whether you’ve read the famous novel or you’ve seen the film adaptations, we’re all familiar with Mary Shelley. Today, let’s take a look at Mary Shelley’s life.


Photo: Biography

Mary Shelley was born in London on August 30th, 1797 as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. Her father, William Godwin, was a political and philosophical writer. Her mother was a famous feminist and is known for her work, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Unfortunately, Shelley was never able to get to know her mother because she died when Shelley was very young.

After Mary Wollstonecraft’s death, William was remarried to Mary Jane Clairmont a few years later.  Clairmont had two children of her own and when the couple was married, they combined their families. However, Clairmont and Shelley never quite got along. Clairmont made the decision to send Shelley’s older sister to school, but refused to educate Shelley at all.

Due to her troubled home life, Mary Shelley often found solace in expressing her creativity. It’s been said that Shelley could often be found reading and daydreaming next to her mothers grave.

In the summer of 1812, Shelley visited Scotland to stay with a family friend by name of William Baxter. The Baxter household offered Shelley peace and tranquility. Which up till this point, was something that Shelley had never experienced before. She returned to the Baxter home the next summer.

In 1814, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley began showing an interest in Mary. Percy was a student of Mary’s father, and over the course of time, the two became infatuated with each other. However, Percy was still married during this time. At the time Mary was only a teenager, the couple fled from England in the same year. This choice angered Mary’s father and he refused to speak to her. After the couple left England, they began to travel around Europe. In 1815, Mary delivered her first child, unfortunately, the child only lived for a couple days.

After the loss of their child, the Shelley’s traveled to Switzerland with Lord Byron, John Polidori, and Jane Clairmont. The famous story behind Frankenstein, starts with this group of people entertaining themselves by reading ghost stories. Lord Byron then made the suggestion that each of them write their very own ghost story. This was the inspiration Mary needed to create her famous novel, Frankenstein.  Her famous novel was finally published in 1818 under an anonymous name. The novel ended up being a huge success.

Despite the success of Frankenstein, Shelley and Percy struggled personally. The years after Frankenstein was published were very difficult on Mary. The couple was finally able to marry in 1816 after the death of Percy’s wife. However, after they wed, the couple lost two more children. In 1819, their son Percy Florence was born and was the only Shelley child to survive until adulthood. In 1822, Percy drowned while out sailing in the Gulf of Spezia.

Mary was only 24 years old when she was widowed. She was forced to work very hard to support her and her son. Mary worked on two more novels that we  now know as The Last Man and Valperga. Mary was very devoted to helping promote her late husband’s work. However, this became very hard for Mary to do because Percy’s father disapproved of his lifestyle.

On February 1st, 1851 Mary Shelley died from brain cancer. She was only 53 years old and was later buried at St. Peter’s Church next to her father and mother.

In the 1950’s, Mary Shelley’s last novel Mathilde was finally published posthumously. Her legacy has lived on through Frankenstein, which is by far her most popular novel. She is creator of one of the most iconic monsters in modern literature. Many film adaptations of her famous novel have been made, helping her work stand the test of time. Frankenstein was and continues to be one of the most iconic horror stories in literature.