On a dark and stormy night, a group of friends was staying at a manor in Switzerland. The year is 1816, and the group consists of famous authors of the time, including Lord Byron, John William Polidori and his girlfriend, Clair Claremont, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Lord Byron came up […]
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, born in 1797 to William Godwin, a British philosopher and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, a British author and feminist. Her mother died less than a month after her birth, and her father remarried when Mary was four years old. The woman was a neighbor, who Mary never got along with very well.
Mary received most of her education from her father, who taught her his liberal political theories. He often took her on educational outings and gave her free access to his extensive library. She also had tutors to fill in the spaces he missed in her education. She met many of the intellectual people of the time that would have visited him, including the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the former vice president of the United States, Aaron Burr.
When she was sixteen she fell in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a poet and one of her father's political followers. At the time he was married, but after his wife committed suicide, in 1816, he married Mary. On a trip to Switzerland, Mary wrote her famous story, "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus". Her husband helped her to publish it in 1818. The two had one child that lived, a son, Percy Florence Shelley in 1819.
In 1822, her husband drowned when his boat sank during a storm near Viareggio. After his death, Mary returned to England where she devoted her life to raising her son and writing. Mary wrote novels, short stories, and essays. She was a biographer and travel writer. She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Although Mary Shelley is famous for her story, "Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus", and the promotion of her husband's work, recent scholars have been bringing her other work to the light of day. Stories such as "Valperga; or, the Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca", published in 1823, it is a story based on the life of Castruccio Castracani (1281- 1328) a cruel tyrant, who successfully commanded Ghibelline forces in Tuscany against the Guelphs. In this battle, Shelley weaves the story of her fictional heroines.
She was also gaining notoriety for her story, "The Last Man", published in 1826. It is an apocalyptic story of the end of the world by a plague. She included her husband and Lord Byron in the story, in the characters of the Earl of Windsor, Adrian, and Lord Raymond. It tells a tragic love story of how imagination and art fail to redeem the doomed characters.
Mary Shelley was an individual thinker. Her works show that she did not follow her husband's political leanings of individual Romantic ethos or her father's of the Enlightenment politics. She supported Radicalism. The Radical Party wanted changes in England. The party wanted a radical reform of the electoral system in the United Kingdom. Some of them wanted republicanism, to abolish titles, to redistribute land, and they wanted freedom of the press.
In 1851, after suffering from headaches and partial paralysis, Mary died of what her doctors thought was a brain tumor. Although she had asked her son and his wife to bury her with her parents, in St. Pancreas, they judged the graveyard to be in too much disrepair. Instead, they buried her in St. Peter's Church, Bournemouth, near their home at Boscombe.
On the first anniversary of her death, her son and his wife, opened her desk to discover locks of hair from her children that had died, a notebook that she had shared with Percy Bysshe Shelley and a copy of his poem, "Adonai's". A page of the poem was folded around a silk parcel that contained some of the ashes from his cremation and the remains of his heart.