Happy birthday, Mary


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born on this day in 1797, the daughter of radicals Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Well-educated and not particularly happy at home (there was some friction between Mary and her stepmother Mary Jane Clairmont), it was only natural that when a handsome young poet showed up, she’d fall in love and run off with him. Mary’s step-sister Claire Clairmont, who later had a torrid affair with Byron, accompanied them to Europe.

Shelley already had a wife, Harriet, but these were the heady days of sex, opium, and the sonata form. Godwin, his radical sexual politics put to the test, became estranged from his daughter.

In the summer of 1816, Shelley, Mary, and Byron were in Switzerland and it was there, in response to a challenge to tell the best ghost story, Mary started to write Frankenstein.

After Shelley’s death in 1822 she returned to England and supported herself as a writer until her death in 1851, penning short stories, essays, poems, and reviews, and several other novels.

I’m not doing justice at all to Mary’s adventurous, unconventional, and sad life, so I encourage you to read a book that does–Passion by Jude Morgan. It’s about the women who became entangled with Byron, Shelley, and Keats, beautifully written, and with a wonderfully strong sense of time and place. I was going to save this one for my beach reads, or best reads of 2007 blog, but it’s so good I have to tell you about it right now, and what better time than Mary’s birthday.

Have you read this book or any other book, fictional or biographical, about the Godwins, Mary, Shelley, Byron et al? Do you have any recommendations?

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