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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Mary Shelley (30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel, ‘Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus’ (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In May 1816, Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley, and their son travelled to Geneva with Claire Clairmont. They planned to spend the summer with the poet Lord Byron, whose recent affair with Claire had left her pregnant. The party arrived at Geneva on 14 May 1816, where Mary called herself “Mrs Shelley”. Byron joined them on 25 May, with his young physician, John William Polidori, and rented the Villa Diodati, close to Lake Geneva at the village of Cologny; Percy Shelley rented a smaller building called Maison Chapuis on the waterfront nearby. They spent their time writing, boating on the lake, and talking late into the night.

“It proved a wet, ungenial summer”, Mary Shelley remembered in 1831, “and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house”. Amongst other subjects, the conversation turned to the experiments of the 18th-century natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin, who was said to have animated dead matter, and to galvanism and the feasibility of returning a corpse or assembled body parts to life. Sitting around a log fire at Byron’s villa, the company also amused themselves by reading German ghost stories, prompting Byron to suggest they each write their own supernatural tale. Shortly afterwards, in a waking dream, Mary Godwin conceived the idea for Frankenstein:

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

She began writing what she assumed would be a short story. With Percy Shelley’s encouragement, she expanded this tale into her first novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, published in 1818.  She later described that summer in Switzerland as the moment “when I first stepped out from childhood into life”.

In 1986, Ken Russell turned the tale of that night in Geneva into the film ‘Gothic’.

Although primarily known for Frankenstein, Mary wrote the even darker ‘The Last Man’, published in 1826.  The book tells of a future world that has been ravaged by a plague. The novel was harshly reviewed at the time, and was virtually unknown until a scholarly revival beginning in the 1960s. The Last Man received the worst reviews of all of Mary Shelley’s novels: most reviewers derided the very theme of lastness, which had become a common one in the previous two decades. Individual reviewers labeled the book “sickening”, criticised its “stupid cruelties”, and called the author’s imagination “diseased”. Mary Shelley later spoke of The Last Man as one of her favourite works. The novel was not republished until 1965. In the 20th century it received new critical attention, perhaps because the idea of an apocalyptic future has become more relevant. Ahead of her time.

7 responses

  1. Houston Harbus

    With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright violation? My website has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any ways to help prevent content from being ripped off? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

    September 13, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    • I don’t protect any of my articles. I post them for people to read, copy, download and do whatever they want with them. As long as people seem to enjoy it, I’ll continue to post my opinions.

      September 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm

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