MARY SHELLEY Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Mary Shelley Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (August 30, 1797-February 1, 1851) was an English writer who is, perhaps, equally-famously remembered as the wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and as the author of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.




Mary Shelley was born on August 30, 1797 in London, England, the only daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and the famous liberal philosopher, anarchic journalist and atheist dissenter, William Godwin.


She met Percy Bysshe Shelley, a free-thinker like her father, on June 26, 1814 at her mother’s gravestone. They eloped to France a month later, on July 27, with Mary’s stepsister, Jane Clairmont. This was the poet’s second elopement and, later, second marriage (his first wife, Harriet Westbrook committing suicide in 1816).


Percy Shelley is renowned for his deep desire for ‘true love’ in his life. He was, evidently, more than satisfied with his young bride, exultant that she was “one who can feel poetry and understand philosophy".


At about this time, Mary had probably become quite influenced by the classics which her husband had taken to reading after they returned to London towards the end of the year. But this was also the time that Percy Shelley wrote “Alastor” and “The Spirit of Solitude", in which he counsels aginst the loss of “sweet human love” in exchange for the activism that he himself was to promote and indulge in for much of his life.


During May of 1816, the couple, with Jane (now Claire) Clairmont in tow, took to the Geneva lakeside to meet Lord Byron, with whom Claire had been conducting an affair.


In terms of English literature, it was a to be a halcyon summer. Percy began work on “Hymn To Intellectual Beauty” and “Mont Blanc". Mary, in the meantime, had been inspired to write Frankenstein.


The group had decided to have a ghost-telling contest. Another guest, Dr John Polidori, came up with “The Vampyr", later to become a strong influence on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Mary’s story proved to be more successful.


Mary had incorporated a number of different sources into her work, not the least of which was the Promethean myth from Ovid. The influence of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, the book the ‘monster’ finds in the cabin, is also clearly evident within the novel.


Also, both the Shelley’s had read William Beckford’s Vathek (a Gothic novel that has been likened to an Arabesque). Can one miss the darkling reflection of the Beckford character’s “insolent desire to “penetrate the secrets of heaven” in both “Alastor” ("I have made my bed In charnels and on coffins") and Mary’s acclaimed piece ("Who shall perceive the horrors …as I dabbled among the unhallowed damp of the grave, or tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay")?


Indeed, many, if not most, commentators take this “desire” to be a major theme of Frankenstein.


Returning to England in September of 1816, Shelley withstood the self-drowning of his wife Harriet and married Mary (now with her family’s consent). Then, during the spring of the following year, Frankenstein became a finished article.


Following on from a number of Percy’s literary and personal ups and downs, the Shelley troupe moved to Lerici, a town close to La Spezia in Italy. There, on July 8, 1822, in the midst of writing a shadowy work called “The Triumph Of Life", the young poet drowned, along with Edward Williams, on a boat trip back from Livorno.


Mary was tireless in promoting her late husband’s work, including editing and annotating unpublished material. But she also found occasions to write a few more novels, including Valperga, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck and Falkner.


Critics say these works do not begin to approach the power and fame of Frankenstein; The Last Man, a pioneering science fiction novel of the human apocacalypse in the distant future, is, however, sometimes considered her best work.


Mary Shelley died on February 1, 1851 in London and was interred at St. Peter’s Churchyard in Bournemouth, in the English county of Dorset.