It was a dark and stormy night. Three friends sat around the fire taking turns reading German ghost stories…
No, really. It was. Ok, maybe that night wasn’t stormy, but it was a summer night in 1816, when a then 18 year- old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, and the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron were sitting around a fire at Lake Geneva. It was here that the three challenged each other to write the scariest story they could, Mary’s contribution would become her first published work and a tale so creepy that it would endure to present time, and beyond: Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus.
In this mini-cast we take a little time to look at the life before, and after, Mary Shelley wrote her most famous book.
The story of Mary Shelley begins ten days before her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, dies.
How is that for a dramatic entrance?
Born on August 30th, 1797, she was the first and only love child of writers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. (For the details on this woman, please give a listen to our podcast on Mary Wollstonecraft). Her mother had a young daughter from another relationship, Fanny Imlay, who was to be raised by now single dad Godwin with his own daughter- Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin…not to be confused with his wife, Mary Wollstoncraft Godwin. (Susan puts down her head and weeps…why must you people name your children the same name as you have!?)
When Mary was four, her father remarried Mary Jane Clairmont who brought two children, Charles and Claire into the home. William was a pretty involved father, and while Claire was sent off to school, Mary was pretty much educated at home. But being educated at home by an intellectual who ran in some pretty cool circles- as well as encouraging you to read all the writings of your mother-isn’t exactly a lacking education.
By now you should know that we love to get into the more, er, gossipy side of women’s lives. And Mary Shelley gave us a bit to look at. As a young teen she meets Percy Shelley. MARRIED Percy Shelley. He falls for her while studying at the feet of her father. And helping to pay his bills. At one point, Daddy says “stay away from my daughter”, but that’s not to happen.
At 17, Mary runs off with Percy, taking her step-sister Claire with them.
Oh! This is a road trip for the ages! We do go into it in detail in the podcast, but by the time a penniless Percy and Mary come back to England she is pregnant, and his wife is pregnant. Harriet Shelley gives birth to a son, and Mary gives birth to a premature daughter, who dies shortly after birth.
We do tell you all about Mary’s five pregnancies, and the one child who lives to adulthood. About the death of Percy’s wife, the marriage of Mary and Percy, and the travels of the trio of Percy, Mary and Claire and their children. We chat about the creation of Frankenstein, Lord Byron, and the death of Percy.
This may be a mini-cast but it is full of drama! What a life this woman created and lived!
After Percy’s death, Mary’s life settles down somewhat. She is a writer, but never sees success to the likes of Frankenstein- which in our opinion- makes her quite a writer indeed.
The end of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley’s life was full of illness and living with her remaining son*sigh* Percy. She died of a brain tumor in 1851 at the age of 54.
Time Travel with The History Chicks
We admit, this was a minicast about the full life of a woman who did a lot of living in her years. Here is a great starting place to look a bit more into the life of Mary Shelley, and there are other posts about her on this site as well: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/mary-wollstonecraft-shelley
Just because we thought it was an interesting look at the beginnings of Frankenstein: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/26/frankenstein-hour-creation-identified-astronomers
And we really liked this book:
Go, read Frankenstein! Read the graphic novel! Watch the movies! Enjoy! It’s a classic!