When concerning the great British female authors of history, the title is often bestowed upon Austen, one of the Bronte sisters, or more contemporary writers, such as J.K.Rowling. One author’s name that is, tragically, barely mentioned, is Mary Shelley. Her authorship of the famous novel ‘Frankenstein’ is certainly impressive, the fact that it was considered the first Science-Fiction novel even more so, but what individuals tend to forget is that she wrote it age nineteen. A nineteen-year-old girl essentially pioneered the sci-fi genre, yet the classical authoresses we remember are the ones who discussed airs and graces, rather than grotesque sins, and grisly murders. Her most famous novel is not her only legacy, her interesting personal life with the poet Percy Shelley being at least as engaging as her works, painting a picture of a colourful character, who deserves significantly more recognition than she is given.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, née Wollstonecraft Godwin, was born in 1797 to the pioneer of feminism Mary Wollstonecraft, and the first modern supporter of anarchy, William Godwin. With parents so influential in the literary world and, at the time, so radical, Shelley would have certainly had an interesting childhood. Sadly, her mother’s direct influence was lost on her, as she passed ten days after her birth. Nevertheless, letters from her father confirm that she began to read the books of both her parents early on, devouring the philosophies, which they had pioneered, and her mother’s influence certainly took hold. Though she received little formal education, as was common for girls during the era, her father tutored her in a range of subjects, once stating that “Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes is almost invincible’.
At age sixteen, in-between her two trips to Scotland, Mary met her future husband, Percy Shelley, aged 22. His political views, based on that of Mary’s father, had alienated him from the aristocracy, so he became acquainted with Godwin, and his fellow anarchists. Shelley was heavily in debt to Godwin, who disapproved of their blossoming relationship, encouraging Mary and Percy to elope, with Mary’s step-sister. The trio travelled from France, to Holland, and back to England, where they were penniless, and given no help from family. After suffering the loss of a child, and depression, at age seventeen, Mary’s luck suddenly changed. The death of Shelley’s grandfather brought the couple money again, as well as the birth of a second, healthy son. This stability allowed Mary to begin her own literary career, writing Frankenstein in 1816, after the encouragement of the couples friend, companion, and famous poet Lord Byron that each write a ghost story. She first assumed it would be a short story, but it turned into an very influential novel, was published two years later.
Mary Shelley went on to give birth to two more children, before two of the three died from contracting malaria. She lost her husband in 1822, and only then did she pick up her pen once more. Mary rejected all future proposals, travelling and writing with her son, and later his wife, up until her death, age 53. Whilst this article barely scratches the surface of her experiences, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was undoubtedly a fascinating woman, whose talents, and life, should maybe be more celebrated than they are today.