The Life Of Mary Shelley Essay Research

The Life Of Mary Shelley Essay, Research Paper

The Life of Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley, born August 30, 1797, was a

prominent, though often overlooked, literary figure

during the Romantic Era of English Literature. She

was the only child of Mary Wollstonecraft, the

famous feminist, and William Godwin, a philosopher

and novelist. She was also the wife of the poet

Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary’s parents were shapers

of the Romantic sensibility and the revolutionary

ideas of the left wing. Mary, Shelley, Byron, and

Keats were principle figures in Romanticism’s

second generation. Whereas the poets died young

in the 1820’s, Mary lived through the Romantic era

into the Victorian.

Mary was born during the eighth year of the French

Revolution. “She entered the world like the heroine

of a Gothic tale: conceived in a secret amour, her

birth heralded by storms and portents, attended by

tragic drama, and known to thousands through

Godwin’s memoirs. Percy Shelley would elevate the

event to mythic status in his Dedication to The

Revolt of Islam”.( from pg. 21 of Romance and

Reality by Emily Sunstein.) From infancy, Mary was

treated as a unique individual with remarkable

parents. High expectations were placed on her

potential and she was treated as if she were born

beneath a lucky star. Godwin was convinced that

babies are born with a potential waiting to be

developed. From an early age she was surrounded

by famous philosophers, writers, and poets:

Coleridge made his first visit when Mary was two

years old. Charles Lamb was also a frequent visitor.

A peculiar sort of Gothicism was part of Mary’s

earliest existence. Most every day she would go for

a walk with her father to the St. Pancras churchyard

where her mother was buried. Godwin taught Mary

to read and spell her name by having her trace her

mother’s inscription on the stone.

At the age of sixteen Mary ran away to live with the

twenty-one year old Percy Shelley, the unhappily

married radical heir to a wealthy baronetcy. To

Mary, Shelley personified the genius and

dedication to human betterment that she had

admired her entire life. Although she was cast out

of society, even by her father, this inspirational

liaison produced her masterpiece, Frankenstein.

She conceived of Frankenstein during one of the

most famous house parties in literary history when

staying at Lake Geneva in Switzerland with Byron

and Shelley. Interestingly enough, she was only

nineteen at the time. She wrote the novel while

being overwhelmed by a series of calamities in her

life. The worst of these were the suicides of her

half-sister, Fanny Imlay, and Shelly’s wife, Harriet.

After the suicides, Mary and Shelley, reluctantly

married. Fierce public hostility toward the couple

drove them to Italy. Initially, they were happy in

Italy, but their two young children died there. Mary

never fully recovered from this trauma. (Their first

child had died shortly after birth early in their

relationship.) Nevertheless, Shelley empowered

Mary to live as she most desired: to enjoy

intellectual and artistic growth, love, and freedom.

When Mary was only twenty-four Percy drowned,

leaving her penniless with a two year old son.

For her remaining twenty-nine years she engaged in

a struggle with the societal disapproval of her

relationship with Shelley. Poverty forced her to live

in England which she despised because of the

morality and social system. She was shunned by

conventional circles and worked as a professional

writer to support her father and her son. Her circle,

however, included literary and theatrical figures,

artists, and politicians.

She eventually came to more traditional views of

women’s dependence and differences, like her

mother before her. This not a reflection of her

courage and integrity but derived from socialization

and the conventions placed on her by society.

Mary became an invalid at the age of forty-eight.

She died in 1851 of a brain tumor with poetic timing.

The Great Exhibition, which was a showcase of

technological progress, was opened. This was the

same scientific technology that she had warned

against in her most famous book, Frankenstein.



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