It’s not a secret that Frankenstein is one of my favorite books. The people at my house will tell you how wound up I get when Mary Shelley does not get the recognition that she deserves. Remember that ridiculous article by the New York Times claiming H.G. Wells invented science fiction? (He did not. Mary Shelley did many years before Wells was born.) I have not forgotten and still tell everyone – at least at my house- how wrong they were. The poor people of my house are very well-educated in Mary Shelley. I haven’t even told them everything that I know yet.
Obviously, I’m a bit obsessed with Mary Shelley and wanted to know more than what was on Drunk History. There is also a prompt on the Book Riot Read Harder challenge about reading a book about an author that you admire. Perfect timing! In my search for books about Mary Shelley, I found In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein by Fiona Sampson.
The book begins with the birth of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin in the Somers Town area of London. Both of her parents were well-known writers and philosophers. Unfortunately, Mary’s mother dies from complications related to childbirth within a month of her birth.
Mary was raised and educated by her father and later her stepmother, Mary Jane. She did receive an excellent homeschool education. There were always brilliant people visiting the house, as well as educational trips. She met the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley because he was an acquaintance of her father. By the time that they were falling in love, Mary was 15 and Percy was 21. He was also married to Harriet, who was pregnant with their second child. Percy was a hot mess, which affected everyone around him. Yet, Mary wanted to hitch her wagon to his star. I don’t think she cared if he was rich. He was a handsome, brilliant poet and that was enough for Mary to overlook his many, many faults.
So Mary and Percy eloped in 1814. They took her stepsister, Claire, with them. Claire tagged along with them for several years. She was also having an affair with Percy. The three of them moved around a lot. It wasn’t as romantic as it sounds. They were always in debt and running away from creditors and landlords. If Mary had been in charge of the finances, their circumstances could have been better. She followed along with whatever Percy wanted.
Eventually, they traveled to Lake Geneva in 1816, where they met Lord Byron. At this gathering, Byron came up with the idea that everyone should write a ghost story. From this ghost story writing party, came the novel Frankenstein and also the story that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, “The Vampyre,” by John William Polidori.
FYI: Claire became pregnant with Lord Byron’s child while at the Lake Geneva party.
Mary and Percy are still on the move all of the time. There were several children but only one lived to adulthood. It doesn’t seem like the Shelley’s were healthy. They were vegetarians but might not have had a good diet. There was always an extraordinary amount of stress with all of the moves, financial debt and Percy’s affairs. Plus, several unexpected deaths in the family, including their children, Percy’s wife and Mary’s sister.
In spite of all of the hardships, Mary tried to keep writing her novel, Frankenstein. She was already well-educated but she continued to learn about science. She also edited and promoted Percy’s work. How did she do it? I don’t know but she did finally publish Frankenstein in 1818. The book was published anonymously. Some people thought Percy wrote it. Mary was not a fan of this notion. She loved Percy but not enough to let him take credit for her novel.
So Percy died at a young age. Mary never remarries. Apparently, she kept Percy’s heart in her desk drawer. That is the most Gothic/creepy/romantic thing -maybe ever.
If you want to know more about Mary Shelley and what influenced her, then I highly recommend reading In Search of Mary Shelley. Would Victor Frankenstein like this book? Would he want to know about his own creator? Percy Shelley would probably not appreciate all of the truth bombs being written about him but we aren’t fans of Percy. We are fans of Mary for life.