Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (née Godwin) (30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English romantic/gothic novelist and the author of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. She was married to the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in Somers Town, in London, in 1797. She was the second daughter of famed feminist, philosopher, educator, and writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Her father was the equally famous anarchist philosopher, novelist, journalist, and atheist dissenter William Godwin. Her mother died of puerperal fever ten days after Mary was born.[1]

Her father was left with the responsibility of safeguarding Mary and her older half-sister, Fanny Imlay. He hired a housekeeper and governess, Louisa Jones, to look after the house and care for the children. Louisa's love letters reveal that she was devoted to the girls, and that Mary's early years were extremely happy ones. Unfortunately for Mary, Louisa fell in love with one of Godwin's wilder and more irresponsible disciples, and Godwin did not approve of the relationship, cutting off all contact between her and his daughters. Mary was three years old when Louisa left. Godwin, however, had long realized that he could not raise his daughters by himself, and had been actively looking for a second wife. After courting a number of women, he met Mary Jane Clairmont, a widow with two young children. He soon fell in love with her and married her, although his friends did not approve of the match. Mary Jane Clairmont was a difficult woman with a quick temper and a sharp tongue, and she quarrelled frequently with her husband. She did not get on well with her stepdaughters, especially Mary, whose attachment to Godwin Mary resented. She also disliked the amount of attention that Mary, as the daughter of the two most famous radicals of the time, received from visitors to the Godwin household. She made Mary do many of the household chores, invaded her privacy, and restricted her access to her father. She also ensured that her own daughter, Jane Clairmont (better known as Claire Clairmont), received more education than Mary Godwin, as she contrived to send her to boarding school.

Nonetheless, Mary received an excellent education, which was unusual for girls at the time. She never went to school, but she was taught to read and write by Louisa Jones, and then educated in a broad range of subjects by her father, who gave her free access to his extensive library. In particular, she was encouraged to write stories, and one of these early works "Mounseer Nongtongpaw" was published by the Godwin Company's Juvenile Library when she was only eleven. "Mounseer Nongtongpaw" was a thirty-nine stanza expansion of Charles Dibdin's five-stanza song of the same name. Written in iambic tetrameter it tells of John Bull's trip to Paris, where all of his questions about the ownership of everything he sees meet with the same response: Je vous n'entends pas ("I don't hear you"). He takes this phrase as referring to a Monsieur Nongtongpaw, whose wealth and possessions he greatly envies. At the same time, Godwin allowed her to listen to the conversations he had with many of the leading intellectuals and poets of the day.

By 1812, the animosity between Mary and her stepmother had grown to such an extent that William Godwin sent her to board with an acquaintance, William Baxter, who lived in Dundee, Scotland. Mary's stay with the Baxter family had a profound effect on her: they provided her with a model of the type of closely-knit, loving family to which she would aspire for the rest of her life. Moreover, in the 1831 Preface to Frankenstein, she claims that this period of life led to her development as a writer: "I lived principally in the country as a girl, and passed a considerable time in Scotland. I made occasional visits to the more picturesque parts; but my habitual residence was on the blank and dreary northern shores of the Tay, near Dundee. Blank and dreary on retrospection I call them; they were not so to me then. They were the eyry of freedom, and the pleasant region where unheeded I could commune with the creatures of my fancy. I wrote then—but in a most common-place style. It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, on the bleak sides of the woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and fostered. I did not make myself the heroine of my tales. Life appeared to me too common-place an affair as regarded myself. I could not figure to myself that romantic woes or wonderful events would ever be my lot; but I was not confined to my own identity, and I could people the hours with creations far more interesting to me at that age, than my own sensations."[2]

[edit] Trip to Switzerland and Frankenstein
In May 1816, the couple and their son travelled to Lake Geneva in the company of Claire Clairmont. Their plan was to spend the summer near the famous and scandalous poet Lord Byron, whose recent affair with Claire had left her pregnant.

From a literary perspective, it was a productive and successful summer. Percy began work on "Hymn To Intellectual Beauty" and "Mont Blanc"; Mary, in the meantime, was inspired to write an enduring masterpiece of her own.

Forced to stay indoors one evening because of cold and rainy weather (see "Year Without a Summer"), the group of young writers and intellectuals, sexually enthralled by the ghost stories from the book Fantasmagoriana, decided to have a ghost-story writing contest. Byron and Percy Shelley abandoned the project relatively soon, with Byron publishing his fragment at the end of Mazeppa. Byron's physician Dr. John Polidori's contribution remains uncertain; he identifies The Modern Oedipus as the work in question in the introduction to the novel, but, in her preface to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein, Mary claims that he had a terrible idea about a skull-headed lady who was punished for peeping through keyholes. Mary herself had no inspiration for a story, which was a matter of great concern to her. However, Luigi Galvani's report of his 1783 investigations in animating frog legs with electricity were mentioned specifically by her as part of the reading list that summer in Switzerland. One night, perhaps attributable to Galvani's report, Mary had a waking dream; she recounted the episode in this way: “My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie…I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together—I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion…What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.”[2] This nightmare served as the basis for the novel that she entitled Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus (1818).[2]

[edit] Marriage and the Death of Shelley
Returning to England in September 1816, Mary and Percy were stunned by two family suicides in quick succession. On 9 October 1816, Mary's older half-sister, Fanny Imlay, left the Godwin home and took her own life at a distant inn. On 10 December, Percy's first wife, Harriet, drowned herself in London's Hyde Park. Discarded and pregnant, Claire had not welcomed Percy's invitation to join him and Mary in their new household.

On 30 December 1816, shortly after Harriet's death, Percy and Mary were married at St Mildred's Church in London, now with Godwin's blessing. Their attempts to gain custody of Percy's two children by Harriet failed, but their writing careers enjoyed more success when, in the spring of 1817, Mary finished Frankenstein.

Over the following years, Mary's household grew to include her own children by Percy, occasional friends, and Claire's daughter, Allegra Byron, by Byron. Shelley moved his ménage from place to place, first in England and then in Italy. Mary suffered the death of her infant daughter Clara outside Venice, after which her young son Will died too, in Rome, as Percy moved the household yet again. By now Mary had resigned herself to her husband's self-centred restlessness and his romantic enthusiasms for other women. The birth of her only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley, consoled her somewhat for her losses.

Mary Shelley's grave in BournemouthEventually the group settled in Pisa. For the summer of 1822, they moved to Lerici, a fishing village close to La Spezia in Italy, but it was an ill-fated choice. It was here that Claire learned of her daughter's death at the Italian convent to which Byron had sent her, and that Mary almost died of a miscarriage, being saved only by Percy's quick thinking. And it was from there, in July 1822, that Percy sailed away up the coast to Livorno, to meet Leigh Hunt, who had just arrived from England. Caught in a storm on his return, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned at sea on 8 July 1822, aged 29, along with his friend Edward Williams and a young boat attendant. Percy left his last long poem, a shadowy work called The Triumph Of Life, unfinished.

[edit] Later life
Mary died of a brain tumour, aged 53, on 1 February 1851 at Chester Square in London, England. She was buried in St. Peter’s churchyard in Bournemouth, Dorset, England.

[edit] Writings
Mounseer Nongtongpaw; or, The Discoveries of John Bull in a Trip to Paris, Juvenile Library, 1808
History of 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, with contributions by Percy Byshhe Shelley, Hookham, 1817
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (novel), three volumes, Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, & Jones, 1818, revised edition, one volume, Colburn & Bentley, 1831, two volumes, Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1833
Mathilda (1819 novel), edited by Elizabeth Nitchie, University of North Carolina Press, 1859
Valperga; or The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (novel), three volumes, Whittaker, 1823.
Editor of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Hunt, 1824
The Last Man (novel), three volumes, Colburn, 1826, two volumes, Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1833
The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (novel), three volumes, Colburn & Bentley, 1830, two volumes, Carey, Lea, & Blanchard, 1834
Lodore (novel), three volumes, Bentley, 1835, one volume, Wallis & Newell, 1835
Falkner (novel) three volumes, Saunders & Otley, 1837, one volume, Harper & Brothers, 1837
Editor of P. B. Shelley, The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, four volumes, Moxon, 1839
Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843, two volumes, Moxon, 1844
The Choice: A Poem on Shelley's Death, edited by H. Buxton Forman, [London], 1876
The Mortal Immortal (short story), Mossant, Vallon, 1910
Proserpine and Midas: Two Unpublished Mythological Dramas, edited by A. Koszul, Milford, 1922
Contributor to Volumes 86-88 and 102-103 in The Cabinet of Biography, Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopedia, 1835-1839
Contributor of stories, reviews, and essays for London Magazine, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Examiner, and Westminster Review
Contributor of stories to an annual gift book, The Keepsake, 1828-1838
Collections of Mary Shelley's works are housed in Lord Abinger's Shelley Collection on deposit at the Bodleian Library, the New York Public Library, the Huntington Library, the British Library, and in the John Murray Collection
Excluding many collections, such as Mary and Shelley's journals and letters
The Bride of Modern Italy (?)
The Dream (?)
Ferdinando Eboli (?)
The Invisible Girl (?)
Roger Dodsworth:The Reanimated Englishman (1826)
The Sisters of Albano (?)
The Transformation (?)

[edit] Film
The Shelley circle and the genesis of the Frankenstein story in 1816 have been popular subjects for filmmakers, and Mary Shelley has been portrayed in a number of films:

Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935); Elsa Lanchester plays Mary Shelley
Gothic (Ken Russell, 1986); Natasha Richardson plays Mary Shelley
Haunted Summer (Ivan Passer, 1988); Alice Krige plays Mary Shelley
Rowing With the Wind (Gonzalo Suárez, 1988); Lizzy McInnery plays Mary Shelley
Frankenstein Unbound (Roger Corman, 1990); Bridget Fonda plays Mary Shelley
Byron (BBC, 2003); Sally Hawkins plays Mary Shelley

[edit] See also
Godwin-Shelley family tree

[edit] References
^ Bartlett, Jane. Is childbed fever history?. Retrieved on 2007-10-06.
^ a b c Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft [1831] (1999). "Introduction", Frankenstein. Charlottesville, Va: University of Virginia Library. Retrieved on 2007-10-06.

[edit] Further reading
Lives of the Great Romantics 3. Mary Shelley, vol.3, ed. Betty T. Bennett (Pickering and Chatto, London, 1999
Martin Garrett, A Mary Shelley Chronology (Palgrave, Basingstoke, and St Martin’s Press, New York, 2002)
Martin Garrett, Mary Shelley (British Library: London, 2002)
William St Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys: the Biography of a Family (Faber and Faber, London, 1989)
Miranda Seymour, Mary Shelley (John Murray, London, 2000)
Emily W. Sunstein, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1989)

[edit] External links
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Mary ShelleyWikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
Mary ShelleyWikimedia Commons has media related to:
Mary ShelleyWorks by Mary Shelley at Project Gutenberg
Mary Shelley at the Internet Movie Database
Mrs. Shelley by Lucy M. Rossetti (1890)
Mary Shelley at Find A Grave
Free audiobook of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus from LibriVox (without prefaces and edition information)
Literary Encyclopedia biography
Chapter on Shelley from Traits of Character: Being Twenty-five Years' Literary and Personal Recollections by Eliza Rennie, a contemporary writer and friend
Brandeis University article on Mary's life and work
The first Full English translation of Fantasmagoriana (Tales of The Dead)
'Mary Shelley's lost children's story found' Article about Maurice, or the Fisher's Cot, a newly discovered story by Mary Shelley


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