Mary Shelley was born in London on August 30, 1797. She was the only child of Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist, and William Godwin, a radical philosopher and novelist. She was the wife and lover of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Mary was born during the eigth year of the French Revolution. She entered the world like the heroine of a Gothic tale: conceived in a secret amour, her birth heralded by storms and portents, attended by tragic drama, and known to tthousands through Godwin’s memoirs. From infancy, Mary was treated as a unique individual with remarkable parents. High expectations were placed on her potential and she was treated as if she were born beneath a lucky star. Godwin was convinced that babies are born with a potential waiting to be developed. From an early age she was surrounded by famous philosophers, writers, and poets: Coleridge made his first visit when Mary was two years old. Charles Lamb, the great English essayist, wwas also a frequent visitor.
A peculiar sort of Gothicism was part of Mary’s earliest existence. Most every day she would go for a walk with her father to the St. Pancras churchyard where her mother was buried. Godwin taught MMary to read and spell her name by having her trace her mother’s inscription on the stone.
At the age of sixteen Mary ran away to live with the twenty-one year old Percy Shelley, the unhappily married radical heir to a wealthy baronetcy. To Mary, Shelley personified the genuis and dedication to human betterment that she had admired her entire life. Although she was cast out of society, even by her father, this inspirational liasion produced her masterpiece, Frankenstein.
She conceived of Frankenstein during one of the most famous house parties in literary history when staying at Lake Geneva in Switzerland with Byron and Shelley. Interestingly enough, she was only nineteen at the time. She wrote the novel while being ooverwhelmed by a series of calamities in her life. The worst of these were the suicides of her half-sister, Fanny Imlay, and Shelly’s wife, Harriet.
After the suicides, Mary and Shelley, reluctantly married. Fierce public hostility toward the couple drove them to Italy. Initially, they were happy in Italy, but their two young children died there. Mary never ...
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