Yesterday, we shared more about the original classic novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley — as part of our feature on This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel, which is a new prequel to the original book. So today, we want to talk a bit more about the original creator of Victor Frankenstein: Mary Shelley herself!
Mary Shelley: The Woman Behind Frankenstein
Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in London in 1797 — Mary Shelley was raised primarily by her father, as her mother died when she was only 11 days old. It’s likely her father’s liberal and non-traditional rearing encouraged Mary’s creative inclinations. And in fact, it was through her father that she met her lover and future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley.
How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?
At age 18, Shelley came to write Frankenstein as part of a competition between Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori. The four challenged each other to write the best horror story imaginable. Shelley got the idea for Frankenstein from a dream:
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.
Frankenstein was first published anonymously in 1818 — and though it was not critically praised, it was largely successful with readers and went on to receive subsequent publication over the years — with Shelley’s name eventually attached to it publicly. Though she is best known for this novel now, Frankenstein is hardly Shelly’s only work. Besides also publishing much of her husband’s work, she also wrote several other novels:
- Perkin Warbeck
- The Last Man
Shelley also published a travel book, Rambles in Germany and Italy, and wrote for various other publications.
Percy Shelley died in a sailing accident in 1822 — leaving Mary a widowed, single mother. After Percy’s death, Shelley returned to England, where she focused on raising her son and working on her writing. She died in 1851 from a brain tumor.