Essay on A Brief Biography of Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley was an English novelist, dramatist, and short story writer. She is one of the best writers of all time and is best known for her gothic novel Frankenstein. Although Mary faced many despair-filled moments throughout her life, she was able to overcome her personal tragedies and reflect them into literary masterpieces. The tenacious woman and novelist that Mary Shelley was, marked the beginning of a new era of writing and society.
Mary was born on August 30, 1797 in London, England as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (“Mary Shelley”). She was the daughter of William Godwin, a radical philosopher and novelist; and Mary Godwin, a strong feminist who was famous for her plea for equality in education (“Mary Shelley”). Mary Shelley, sadly, never knew her mother due to infections and other complications after her birth, but Mary kept her mother’s maiden name, Wollstonecraft (“Mary Shelley”). After her mother’s death, Mary’s father, William, remarried to a woman named Mary Jane Vial Claremont, who had two children of her own (“Mary Shelley”). Mary had four siblings in total: two half, Fanny and William Jr. and two step, Charles and Claire (“Mary Shelley”).
Due to the fact that Mary’s parents were prominent writers, advocates, thinkers, and poets, her home was always very busy with well educated people. She never experienced a formal education, but her father tutored her in a broad range of subjects and allowed her to join in on his work (“Mary Shelley”). From the time she was little, Shelley enjoyed writing stories, scribbling, drawing stories, and generally had a creative and intelligent mind. Luckily, her father and stepmother just happened to own a publishing company, and in 1808, it was recorded that she published her first poem, “Mounseer Nongtongpaw” which was a 39-quatrain re-working of a song by Charles Dibdin (“Mary Shelley”). As Mary grew, she took interest in her mother’s past works and decided to finish and publish them. However, it did not go well. When her mother’s philosophical works reached the public eye, a huge scandal arose due to her unconventional beliefs and set a bad reputation upon the family name (“Mary Shelley”). While society today looks at her in a more favorable light, for many years, sadly, the family name was hated. That is, until Frankenstein.
Upon returning from her boarding school in Scotland, Mary met Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy was a devoted student of her father working in London at the time (Lepore). The two fell in love, as they had similar intellectual interests and aspirations. However, Percy was married to a pregnant woman named Harriet, and together they already had a daughter (Lepore). Yet, Mary and Percy ran off to travel together with Mary’s sister Claire Claremont and Lord Byron, a teacher and friend of Mary’s father (Lepore). When Mary and Shelley returned to London, they started a family. Mary gave birth to four children, only one of whom survived to adulthood (Lepore). Her first two: a girl, Clara, was born prematurely and died days later in 1815; and William, born in 1816, died of an illness a few years later (Lepore). In that same year, however, came a series of trauma to Mary and her family. Mary's older half-sister Fanny Imlay Godwin committed suicide, and so did Percy’s wife, Harriet Westbrook, by throwing herself into a river while pregnant with the couple's third child (Lepore). In 1816, Mary and Percy happily wed (Lepore). Mary decided to change her name from what was Wollstonecraft Godwin to Mary Shelley. Mary had her third child Clara Everina, born in 1817, who perished from an illness as well the next year (Lepore). Yet, they were blessed with a fourth child, Percy Florence, who lived much longer than her previous children (Lepore). The two continued their courtship passionately and creating more individual literary pieces.
William Godwin disconnected from the married pair for a while from disappointment in Mary (“Mary Shelley”). Shelley and her father William Godwin, had a difficult relationship, even though it was just the two of them for her first years. He was cruel, selfish, and distant from Shelley, and he threatened that he would not love her if she did not convince her husband to give him more money (“Mary Shelley”). Mary became distraught that she had such weak family connections and love. She used her relationship with her father as inspiration into a novel called Mathilda (“Mary Shelley”). The novel was about a father who holds incestuous feelings for his daughter and was written as an expression of her repressed fantasies of her childhood (“Mary Shelley”). If it was not already bad enough that Mary Shelley was hanging by a thread, not even a few years later, she had another miscarriage and lost her husband Percy to a boating accident (“Mary Shelley”). Mary did not have strong family connections, was alone, and grieving. It was her least productive period and after the death of her husband and multiple miscarriages, mental illness stole her. Her loneliness led her to create more grief-expressed verses (Brackett).
Although Mary had started Frankenstein at just the age of eighteen, she started it back up along with the process of publishing Percy’s poetry works and memoirs (Katz). Mary Shelley’s inspiration for Frankenstein came to her in a nightmare (Katz). Shelley knew that what terrified her would surely terrify others, so she wrote all her nightmares down for further inspiration and writing ideas (Brackett). Poet Lord Byron challenged his guests, one being Mary, to each write a guest story. That challenge urged Mary to create an iconic tale about the monster Frankenstein, at the time known as Modern Prometheus (Katz). Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is widely referred to as the first science fiction novel (Katz). Frankenstein was also responsible for laying the groundwork for the evolution of the horror genre. Frankenstein is four stories in one: an allegory, a fable, an epistolary novel, and an autobiography. The novel’s structure meant that those opposed to political radicalism often found themselves baffled and bewildered by Frankenstein (Katz). The novel appears to be heretical and revolutionary; it also appears to be counter revolutionary. Victor Frankenstein’s politics align nicely with those of Edmund Burke (statesman), who described violent revolution as “a species of political monster” (Katz).
Mary’s pieces narrate romanticism, individualism, and gender roles (Brackett). Victor Frankenstein was inspired by a good friend, Lord Byron, because of his personality (Brackett). When Frankenstein was first published, the critics absolutely hated it (Brackett). In fact, one critic called it “a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity.” Luckily for Shelley, the critical opinion had no impact on the popularity of the book, and thanks to a surge in the popularity of gothic fiction at the time, it became a bestseller (Brackett). The ghoulish tale captivates readers because it articulates the excitement of romanticism, science, and the discovery of oneself and life. Frankenstein was no minor piece of genre fiction but a literary work of striking originality, and so feminist literary critics said Mary’s pieces were the origins of science fiction and “female gothic” (Brackett).
Frankenstein was not the only successful piece of Mary’s. Other novels she wrote during her lifetime were: The Last Man, Valperga, History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, Proserpine and Midas, A Vindication of the Rights of Women: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects, The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mathilda. Almost every novel reflected her chaotic experiences and traumas in life (Brackett). Mary, a widow, later suffered from a mixture of severe psychosomatic illnesses and died on February 1, 1851 in London at the age of fifty-three from a mysterious body paralysis (Brackett). Shelley did nothing less than pour her heart and soul into her novels, particularly Frankenstein.
Clearly, Mary Shelley’s literary abilities were ahead of her time. Even though Mary Shelley’s life was filled with turmoil, she managed to express some of her happiness through her novels along with her ideals and personality. Her maturity and extensive knowledge of the human mind, human values, life experiences, and her incorporation of personal beliefs into her work make every piece of hers come to life, which is why still today they are world renowned.