Your browser does not support JavaScript!
Mini-Biospowered by ZigZag Education

Shelley, Mary

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in London in August 1797. Mary was brought up by her father and stepmother, and her childhood was one of eccentricity. She and her stepsister, 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, utilitarian 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 the 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 famous novel Frankenstein. Mary and Percy 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 she 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 and 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 while collaborating with literary acquaintances 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 bouts of paralysis which prevented her from writing. In Chester Square in 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.

Show / hide details

Mary Godwin was born in August in London

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

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's childhood

Mary had a good childhood, by 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.

Mary and Percy married

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

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.

Frankenstein was published

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

Read Frankenstein online here


Matilda was published

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

Read Mathilda online here


Percy Shelly died

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

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 an 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.