Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was a British writer best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein. She was born in 1797, and her mother died when she was only ten days old. She was raised by her father, William Godwin. Godwin was a novelist and publisher and encouraged Mary’s early efforts as a writer.
Her childhood was full of intellectual influences. Her father’s circle included poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and essayist Charles Lamb. When Mary was fifteen years old, she met poet Percy Shelley. Shelley was married at the time, but began dating Mary. The two traveled together during the summer of 1814. They had a premature daughter in 1815, but the baby died twelve days later. A second child was born early in 1816, but died at the age of three.
Percy and Mary traveled through France, Germany and Switzerland. They wrote about their travels together in History of Six Weeks Tour.
In Switzerland, the couple visited the poet Lord Byron. During stormy weather, they stayed inside and read ghost stories. Lord Byron challenged them to write their own ghost story. Mary’s story became Frankenstein. She was eighteen years old when she began writing it and twenty-one when it was published. At first, readers assumed Percy had written it. It became one of the best-selling novels by a female writer and a classic of Gothic literature.
Percy and Mary were wed late in 1816, just a few weeks after his first wife died. Their only surviving child, Percy Florence was born in 1819. The couple spent four years living in Italy, and Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the best known poets in the English language.
Percy Shelley drowned in 1822. Mary didn’t have the financial means to remain in Italy, and she returned to England. She devoted most of her energy to compiling her husband’s poetry and published The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe in 1824.
After the death of her husband, Mary Shelley struggled to support herself and her son. She wrote five more novels that were widely criticized. Her best known work after Frankenstein was The Last Man, published in 1826. This book was considered early science fiction, and described the destruction of the human race.
She gave up writing long fiction when realism became popular. She wrote many short stories and attempted a biography on her husband, which she later abandoned. The journals she wrote between 1814 and 1844 were eventually published. These journals rarely recorded anything of a personal nature, but instead described what she was reading and studying on a daily basis. Her journals reveal her fascination with knowledge and learning.
Mary and her son were able to travel to Italy and Germany beginning in 1940. These travels are recorded in Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843. She became ill the last few years of her life and died of a probable brain tumor in 1851.
Many of Mary Shelley’s works were collected and published after her death. Over fifty films were inspired by her most memorable work Frankenstein. Shelley is considered a major Romantic figure and is widely admired for her literary achievement.
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