Women who paved the way: Mary Shelley


Courtesy of Richard Rothwell on Creative Commons

Mary Shelley was a famed author with her most notable novel being “Frankenstein.”

Emily Dvareckas, Photo Editor

In light of Women’s History Month, The Hawks’ Herald is featuring important women from throughout history. The fourth week of March highlights women who have paved the way in literature.

Mary Shelley was born on Aug. 30, 1797 in London, England. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, passed away shortly after her daughter’s birth. Wollstonecraft was an author and fierce feminist. After the death of her mother, Mary Shelley and her older sister Fanny Imlay, born after Wollstonecraft had an affair with a soldier, were left in the care of Mary’s father.

In 1801, Shelley’s father married Mary Jane Clairmont. Clairmont had two children coming into the marriage and later had one child with him. Clairmont decided her daughter should be sent to school, but she believed it was not important to educate Shelley.

Mary Shelley did not receive a formal education though she was able to make do with what she had. Her father, a philosopher and writer, had a large library and Shelley would often spend her time reading by her mother’s grave.

She began writing stories and published her first poem “Mounseer Nongtongpaw” through her father’s company. In 1814, Shelley began a relationship with a student of her father’s, Percy Bysshe Shelley, even though he was married. Both were avid writers and encouraged each other in their endeavors.

The two fled England and began traveling around Europe. They got married in 1816 after Percy Shelley’s wife died. Mary had given birth to the couple’s first child in 1815 but the child passed away after a few days. In 1816, Mary Shelley began writing “Frankenstein” after a June storm caused a group of friends to stay indoors.

The storm prompted a ghost-writing contest and thus, Shelley got the idea to write the famous novel. Shelley’s sister, Fanny, died that year which was followed by the death of Percy’s wife. After Percy and Mary wed, Mary published a travelogue called “History of a Six Weeks’ Tour” in 1817. The publication of “Frankenstein” came in 1818, published by an anonymous author. Many people believed Percy Shelley was the author since he penned the introduction.

The book was a huge success and the couple moved to Italy. In Italy, the couple lost two more children, but in 1819, their son Percy Florence was born. He would be the only child of the Shelleys’ to survive into adulthood. In 1822, Percy Shelley died after drowning during a sailing trip. At this time, Mary Shelley was 24 years old and widowed.

She supported herself and her son by continuing to write novels, biographies and travelogues after moving back to London. During her lifetime, Shelley continued to help her husband’s legacy live on by editing, publishing and promoting Percy’s literature pieces. Mary Shelley passed away on Feb. 1, 1851 from brain cancer and was laid to rest with Percy’s cremated heart.

In the 1950s, Shelley’s last novel “Mathilde” was published, but her most famous piece will always be “Frankenstein.” The novel was published as a work of gothic fiction but many people consider it science fiction, making it the first published sci-fi novel.