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Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in London, August 1797. Mary was brought up by her father and step-mother, and her childhood was one of eccentricity. She and her step-sister, Fanny Imlay, were educated at home, during which time they were drilled in the radical political views of their father. Mary's father, William Godwin, was a writer, a utilitarianist, and anarchist. Due to Mary's eccentric parents, she often found herself alone, and this solitude allowed her to explore her imagination and was ultimately the reason behind her passion for storytelling.

At 17, Mary attracted the attention of poet Percy Shelley, and the two quickly began a love affair. A confidant and friend of Mary's father, Percy was already married to Harriet Westbrook. Instead of facing scorn and degradation of forming a relationship with a married man, Mary and Percy finally eloped in July 1814 to start a new life together in Italy. It was only the eventual suicide of Harriet that allowed Mary to marry Percy. They had four children together, but unfortunately only their son Percy survived.

It was in 1816 that Mary conceived the idea for her famour novel Frankenstein. Mary and Percey spent the summer of 1816 with Lord Byron, and during one evening the friends challenged each other to write a ghost story. Of all the stories told, Mary's was found to be the most intriguing and was encouraged avidly by her husband to flesh out and develop the concept into a novel. On this advice, Mary set to work and, less than two years later, the novel was published.

Mary spent the next two years writing such works as the autobiographical Matilda, the historical novel Valperga   and collaborated with her husband in writing the plays Prosperpine   and Midas.

Percy Shelley's life was ill-fated and he drowned in 1822, while caught in a summer storm off the coast of La Spezia. Distraught at the loss of her husband, Mary returned to England and spent the final three decades of her life as a professional writer. In 1824, Mary wrote the novel The Last Man whilst collaborating with literary acquiantances in the penning of further biographies of Byron and her husband. During the penultimate decade of Mary's life, she was approached by one of the prolific publishers of the period, Edward Moxon, and in 1838 she published a full collection in a single volume of Percy Shelley's Poetical Works.

In the final seven years of Mary's life, she was beset with boughts of paralysis which prevented her from writing. In Chester Square, February 1851, Mary finally passed away from what was suspected to be a brain tumour.

It has only been since the early 1970s that works from Mary's earlier life have been rediscovered to be radical political gems, laced deeply with feminism and satire. It can be seen from many of Mary's works that her father's anarchistic doctrines and her birth mother's feminist writing had clearly made a deep impression.

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Mary's mother died

Mary Wollstonecraft died just days after her daughter was born. This led to Godwin's remarriage four years later to Mary Jane Clairmont.

Mary Godwin was born in London, August 1797

Mary was born to William Godwin, an anarchistic utilitarian philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft, a feminist writer.

Mary's childhood

Mary had a good childhood from all accounts, but due to her parent's eccentric and active lifestyle, she often found herself alone with her own imagination.

Mary met her future husband Percy Shelley

At the age of 17, Mary attracted the attention of Percy Shelley, who was married. Facing scorn at being with a married man, Mary and Percy eloped to Italy.

The idea for Frankenstein was conceived

The idea for Frankenstein came from a dinner game at Lord Byron's home near Lake Geneva. They challenged each other to tell a ghost story, and it was Mary's that was found most intriguing.

Mary and Percy marry

After Percy's wife, Harriet Westbrook, commited suicide, Mary and Percy were free to marry.

Frankenstein was published

At only 19, Mary published her most critically acclaimed novel, Frankenstein.

Read the novel online here.


Matilda was published

Mathilda is the story of a father's confession of incestious love.

Read the novel online here.


Percy Shelly died

Mary's husband died in a storm off the coast of La Spezia.

Read more about La Spezia.


The Last Man was published

This is a science fiction story of a future world that has been damaged by a plague.

Avid writer and editor

During these years Mary wrote many novels, contributed to magazines and various periodicals.

Mary suffered from illness which caused paralysis

During the last years of Mary's life, she suffered from an illness which caused headaches and paralysis; she could no longer write.

Mary died

In February Mary died in Chester Square of what was believed to be a brain tumour.

About the Contributor

English Editor at ZigZag Education.

A Critical Approach To Feminism in Frankenstein
A detailed explanation of feminism within 'Frankenstein' showing links between the novel and Mary Shelley's own life.
Frankenstein Guide for A Level
Intelligent, carefully researched notes work through the whole text tracking themes, characterisation, symbols & imagery.