Author Profile: Mary Shelley

Exeposé Books online (31 October 2013)

Speaking of her inspiration for the gothic novel Frankenstein, she recalled a waking nightmare: “I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life”. And just a brief insight into the life of Mary Shelley offers further scope for speculation as to what brought her to create such a chilling narrative.

Born in 1797 in London, bereavement was sadly a prominent feature in Mary’s life. From the death of her mother, renowned feminist Mary Wollstonecroft, shortly after childbirth, to the novelist’s several miscarriages and loss of her own children, mortality was an ever-present reality for the author.

In 1814 the teenaged Mary eloped with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a married man. This act sparked estrangement between Mary and her father, the philosopher and political writer William Godwin.

Several years of financial and emotional hardship ensued, as the couple travelled across Europe. In was during this period, upon a stay in Switzerland with Lord Byron and a suggestion that the group attempt their own horror stories, that Mary began working on Frankenstein. Yet before publication more bereavement was endured, upon the suicides of Mary’s half-sister Fanny and Percy’s estranged wife.

Mary married Percy in 1816, and when Frankenstein was published anonymously in 1818, many believed it to be the work of her husband.

Widowed at age 24, Mary went on to publish the historical novel Valperga (1823), and Lodore (1835), alongside two travel narratives, children’s literature and numerous short stories. Her novel Mathilda was however published posthumously, despite having been written shortly after Frankenstein – Mary’s father originally refused to submit it for publication owing to its “disgusting and detestable” themes of incest.

The novel was finally published in 1959, more than a century after Mary’s death in 1851.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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