“Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.”
Sadly, when we mention Frankenstein, many think of the hideous creature which has been made famous by many of its loose Hollywood adaptations. What most don’t know is that this creature was crafted by one of the most wonderful and controversial female writers in history: Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, also known as Mary Shelley.
But, what makes Mary Shelley such an intriguing woman? Let’s begin with her origins.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by Richard Rothwell © National Portrait Gallery, London
Mary Shelley, born on 1797, was the daughter of “radical philosopher” William Godwin and “famous women’s defender rights,” Mary Wollstonecraft. Given that her mother died just a few days after she was born, Mary was raised by her revolutionary father. She was self-taught because her step-mother denied her a formal education. Nevertheless, she published her first poem when she was ten years old.
When she was sixteen years old, Mary met Percy Bysshe Shelley–a well-known British Romantic poet and revolutionary philosopher–who was an admirer of her father. Mary fell in love with Shelley, who was six years her senior, and decided to run away with him. Surprisingly, even if her father was a radical thinker, he did not accept this relationship as Shelley was married at the time to another woman. Even more surprising is the fact that Godwin disowned Mary considering that he had lived of Percy Shelley’s money for a long while.
Two years later, Percy’s wife, Harriet, died–although many argue that she committed suicide–and Mary and Percy Shelley got married. But, her life before and after that marriage was quite scandalous. It is believed that Mary lost her virginity to Percy on her mother’s grave, which she frequently visited.
Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus
Mary Shelley gave birth to Frankenstein during a horror story writing competition in which Lord Byron and John Polidori also participated. Mary claimed the story came to her in a dream. However, some believe she had heard rumors that lightning could bring people back to life. Controversy followed Mary everywhere and since the novel was first published anonymously, many believed it had been written by her husband Percy. Those rumors were silenced when another edition was published; this time, her name was on it.
Whichever the case, one thing is certain: Mary Shelley is the Mother of Science Fiction; she basically invented the genre! But that is not all given that Mary wrote other works of literature including The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, Valperga, Falkner, Mathilda, among others. She certainly was considered a radical.
Elle Fanning and Douglas Booth as Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley on the film Mary Shelley
Sadly, Mary Shelley was surrounded by death. She did not get to meet her mother, had many miscarriages, and she lost her husband, Percy Shelley, who drowned in a sailing accident at the age of twenty-nine. Due to this, it is rumored that Mary kept his calcified heart which she wrapped in one of his poems, and was later discovered by her son after she died.
Mary died of a brain tumor at the age of fifty-three. During her lifetime, she was known either as Wollstonecraft or Godwin’s daughter or as Percy Bysshe Shelley’s wife, considering all three of them were quite famous.
Elle Fanning as Mary Shelley in film Mary Shelley
But Mary was an empowered woman on her own. She was goth way before being goth was mainstream. She became educated on her own and did not let her step-mother prevent her from learning. She ran away from her home in pursuit of what she believed in, and what her father taught her to believe in (even if he eventually changed his mind): freedom. She went to live with Percy when living with someone before marriage was extremely looked down upon. She also wrote one of the most famous novels to this day, and in doing so, invented a whole new genre. Moreover, she was the ultimate romantic by keeping her husband’s heart long after he was gone.
Mary Shelley was a rebel, a precursor, an intellect, and someone who went against society’s expectations in order to stay true to herself. And for these wonderful reasons, Mary Shelley is an inspiration during these times and the years to come.
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”
-Frankenstein, Mary Shelley