So, I used to think RWA was the loudest, the most crowded, the most emotional group experience there was. But that was before I saw 80,000 people screaming as fireworks went off, confetti flew, and history got made. It was truly amazing. I don’t want to bore everyone here by prattling on about politics. I can only say I see now what drove women like the Duchess of Devonshire and the Countess of Bessborough (and Abigail Adams and Elizabeth Cady Stanton) to get out there and work so very hard. The idea that it’s within our power to affect real change in our lives is wonderful stuff, especially since within the space of just two generations we have come so very far (when my grandmother was born in early 1920, women still had four months to go before they got the right to vote). No matter what happens in November, I saw great things happen this week, and I will always be grateful for that.
And now, I am exhausted and hoarse, running on little sleep and lots of strong tea! But I want to say happy 211th birthday to another extraordinary women, Mary Godwin Shelley. Mary Shelley was born August 30, 1797 to the philosophers and radicals Mary Wollstonecraft (who died in childbirth) and William Godwin. In 1814, she fell in love with one of her father’s political acolytes, Percy Bysshe Shelley (who was married), and eloped with him to the Continent (along with her wild stepsister, Claire Clairmont). She didn’t marry Shelley until 1816, after the suicide of his first wife Harriet and the death of their first baby.
In 1817, she spent a famous summer with Shelley, Claire, Byron, and John William Polidori in Switzerland, where she came up with the idea for her most famous work, Frankenstein. They went to Italy in 1818, where they had 3 more children (only one, Percy Florence, survived childhood). In 1822, Shelley drowned when his sailboat sank during a storm in the Bay of La Spezia. A year later, Mary returned to England, devoting the rest of her life to the memory of her husband, the upbringing of her surviving son, and literary endeavors. She died in 1851 at the age of 53.
She is mostly (only?) known now for Frankenstein, but she also wrote historical novels such as Valperga and Perkin Warbeck, and the apocalyptic novel The Last Man, as well as travelogues such as Rambles in Germany and Italy.
A couple of sources on Mary Shelley I really like are Miranda Seymour’s biography Mary Shelley and Janet Todd’s Death and the Maidens. (When I was a teenager, there was a terribly cheesy movie I rented once. I think it was called Haunted Summer, and it was fun, though I don’t know if it’s still out there! Young Frankenstein is also fantastic, though maybe not strictly in the tone of Shelley’s book…)
Happy Birthday, Mary Shelley! And happy Long Nap Weekend to me! What is your favorite Mary Shelley work?