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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
EXPLORING Novels. 2003.
Born: August 30, 1797 in London, England
Died: February 01, 1851 in Bournemouth, United Kingdom
Other Names: Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft (British novelist, 1797-1851); Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft; Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; Shelley, Mary W.
Nationality: British
Occupation: Novelist
Full Text: 

Surrounded by some of the most famous authors in history, Mary Shelley struggled to find her own authorial voice in Frankenstein. She was born in August, 1797 to William Godwin, a revolutionary thinker who wrote An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Shelley's freethinking parents married when Wollstonecraft was five months pregnant with Shelley. Even though both Godwin and Wollstonecraft philosophically opposed the institution of marriage, they wanted to give Mary social respectability. Unfortunately, Shelley would never witness her parents' marital relationship because Wollstonecraft died ten days after Mary's birth. A doctor (summoned by the midwife, who could not remove the placenta after Mary's delivery) infected Wollstonecraft's uterus with his unwashed hands.

Shelley turned to Wollstonecraft's books to learn about a mother she never knew. Self-taught, she also engaged herself with the books that graced her father's library shelves. The new Mrs. Godwin, Mary Jane Clairmont, affirmed Godwin's decision not to give Shelley any formal schooling, even though they both recognized Shelley's curious mind. Clairmont played a major role with other decisions in Mary's life, which gradually heightened Mary's unhappiness with her home life. In fact, Mary's upbringing mirrored certain elements of the childhood story Cinderella because Clairmont favored her own children above Godwin's. Clairmont harbored jealous feelings towards the offspring of two of the most progressive thinkers of the time. In addition, Clairmont resented Shelley's strong devotion to Godwin, so she limited Shelley's interaction with her father. Mary eventually transferred her affections to Percy Shelley, another prominent literary figure of the day.

Percy Shelley and his wife, Harriet, dined with Mary's family after Percy wrote a letter of admiration to Godwin. Mary Shelley met Percy for a second time, two years later, and the pair began spending almost every day with each other. Percy was twenty-two and his wife was pregnant with their second child when Mary declared her love for him. Initially, Mary agreed not to see Percy when Godwin condemned their relationship. But Percy's dramatic threat to commit suicide convinced Mary to flee with him to France in July 1814.

The year 1816 revealed both tragedy and creativity for Shelley. Most of Mary Shelley's biographies trace 1816 as a happy year for the Shelley marriage; a son, William, was born, and the couple did extensive traveling. Mary and Percy met poet Lord Byron at his home in Lake Geneva, the infamous site where Mary gave birth to the Frankenstein myth. But this year also brought much grief to the couple's happiness, as both Fanny Imlay (Mary's older half-sister) and Harriet Shelley committed suicide only weeks apart from each other. Their deaths lead to a series of other deaths and produced the beginnings of Mary's depression. Both William and Clara Shelley, Percy and Mary's son and daughter, died a year apart from each other, and Percy drowned in a boating accident in 1822. Mary spent the remainder of her years in England with her only surviving son, Percy, writing five other novels and other critical and biographical writings. She died of complications from a brain tumor in 1851.


  • Chris Baldick, In Frankenstein's Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing, Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Steven Earl Forry, Hideous Progenies: Dramatizations of `Frankenstein' from the Nineteenth Century to the Present, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.
  • Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, Yale University Press, 1979.
  • M. A. Goldberg, "Moral and Myth in Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein, in Keats-Shelley Journal, Vol. 8, 1959, pp. 27-38.
  • George Levine, "Frankenstein and the Tradition of Realism," in Novel, Vol. 7, Fall, 1973, pp. 14-30.
  • George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher, The Endurance of `Frankenstein,' University of California Press, 1979.
  • Anne K. Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, Methuen, Inc., 1988.
  • Masao Miyoshi, The Divided Self: A Perspective on the Literature of the Victorians, New York University Press, 1969, pp. 79-89.
  • Ellen Moers, Literary Women, Doubleday, 1976, pp. 91- 99.
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, introduction by Diane Johnson, Bantam Books, 1991.
  • Christopher Small, Mary Shelley's `Frankenstein,' University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.
  • Montague Summers, The Gothic Quest, Russell & Russell, 1964.
  • Emily W. Sunstein, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality, Little, Brown, and Co., 1989.
  • Martin Tropp, Mary Shelley's Monster, Houghton Mifflin, 1976.
  • Eleanor Ty, "Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley," in Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, Volume 3: Writers of the Romantic Period, 1789-1832, Gale, 1991, pp. 338-52.
  • William Veeder, Mary Shelley and Frankenstein: The Fate of Androgyny, University of Chicago Press, 1986.
  • There have been so many plays, movies, and recordings of Frankenstein that it would be difficult to list all of the productions. Therefore, the list below represents the most popular, most controversial, and most influential recordings and dramatizations:
  • Recordings: Frankenstein phonodisc dramatization with sound effects and music, directed by Christopher Casson, Spoken Arts, 1970; Frankenstein, taken from a broadcast of the CBS program Suspense, starring Herbert Marshall, American Forces Radio and Television Service, 1976; Frankenstein read by James Mason, Caedmon Records, 1977; Weird Circle, containing Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart and Shelley's Frankenstein, recorded from original radio broadcasts, Golden Age, 1978.
  • Films: Frankenstein starred Colin Clive and Boris Karloff; it was released by Universal in 1931. The Bride of Frankenstein, the sequel to the 1931 film, starred Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester; it was released in 1935 by Universal. Son of Frankenstein, also a sequel to the above mentioned productions, starred Basil Rathbone, Karloff, and Bela Lugosi and was released in 1939 by Universal. All three are available from MCA/Universal Home Video.
  • The Curse of Frankenstein, a 1957 horror film produced by Warner Brothers, included Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee as cast members; the first in a series of films inspired by Shelley's novel, it is available from Warner Home Video. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! was released in 1969 by Warner Brothers; Peter Cushing and Veronica Carlson star as the central characters. Young Frankenstein was released in 1974 by Fox; available from CBS-Fox Video, this comedy-horror film received Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound; cast includes Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, and director-star Mel Brooks.
  • More recent films include 1985's The Bride, starring Sting and Jennifer Beals, available from CBS/Fox Video; famed horror director Roger Corman's 1990 work Frankenstein Unbound, which includes Mary Shelley as a character and stars John Hurt, Raul Julia, and Bridget Fonda, available from CBS/Fox Video; the 1993 cable production Frankenstein, starring Patrick Bergin and Randy Quaid, available from Turner Home Entertainment; and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, released in 1994 by American Zoetrope and available from Columbia Tristar Home Video, featuring Robert De Niro and director-star Kenneth Branagh.
  • Plays: Frankenstein: A Gothic Thriller by David Campton, published by Garnet Miller in 1973; Frankenstein by Tim Kelley, published by Samuel French in 1974.

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley." EXPLORING Novels, Gale, 2003. Research in Context, Accessed 10 Dec. 2018.

Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ2111100009