Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (born Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English writer. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who died of puerperal fever shortly after Mary was born.

Mary Shelley received an advanced education for a girl at that time. She had a governess, a daily tutor, and, for six months, in 1811, she attended a boarding school in Ramsgate. Her father encouraged her to learn to write by composing letters, and her favourite occupation as a child was writing stories. In June 1812, Mary was sent to stay with the Dissenting family of the radical William Baxter, in Scotland, so that she could be introduced to radical political thought and brought up like a philosopher.

In 1814, Mary began a secret romance with one of her father’s political followers, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was by then married. Her father disapproved of their relationship, and, over the next two years, she and Percy faced ostracism and debt. They married in late 1816, after the suicide of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet. The couple left Britain in 1818 for Italy, where their fourth and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley was born. Mary was often physically ill, and prone to depressions. On 16 June 1822, she miscarried, losing so much blood that she nearly died. Later, on 8 July 1822, Percy drowned when his sailing boat sank during a storm near Viareggio, in Italy. A year later, Mary Shelley returned to England and resolved to live by her pen, devoting herself from then on to her career as a professional writer. She remained a liberal throughout her life.

From 1839, Mary suffered from headaches and bouts of paralysis in parts of her body, which sometimes prevented her from reading and writing. On 1 February 1851, she died from what her physician suspected was a brain tumour. Inside Mary’s box-desk, her son found locks of her dead children’s hair, a notebook she had shared with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and a silk parcel containing some of his ashes and the remains of his heart.

Books

  • History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817)
  • Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)
  • Mathilda (1819)
  • Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1823)
  • Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1824)
  • The Last Man (1826)
  • The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830)
  • Lodore (1835)
  • Falkner (1837)
  • The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1839)
  • Contributions to Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men (1835–39), part of Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia
  • Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843 (1844)
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