All in the Family: Mary Shelly Et Al

Portrait of Mary ShelleyMary Shelley (1797-1851), best known as the 19-year-old creator of Frankenstein, wrote numerous novels and stories throughout her life. She was the daughter of two famous (even notorious!) writers: William Godwin (1756-1836), a radical philosopher best known for his work “Enquiry Concerning Political Justice” and for his novel Caleb Williams; and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), considered to be the first feminist for her radical treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Mary Wollstonecraft died from an infection resulting from Mary’s birth. The devastated Godwin hurriedly wrote and published a Memoir about his deceased wife as well as her embarrassing letters to her ex-lover. While these writings were problematic for Wollstonecraft’s reputation at the time, they provide an rare look into the complex life of an exceptional 18th century woman. Godwin also published her unfinished novel, Maria, or the Wrongs of Women.

At age 17, Mary Shelley ran off with the (already married) atheist vegetarian poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), whom she married after his wife’s subsequent suicide. Widowed at the early age of 25, Mary Shelley was forced to support herself and her son with her writing. She worked hard to cleanse Shelley’s radical reputation and popularize his work for a Victorian audience, eventually editing and publishing his poems with commentary. Her efforts resulted in his becoming one of the most celebrated poets of the nineteenth century.

Works by Mary Shelley on the Archive:

— Renata