Regency,  Research

Happy birthday, Mary Shelley

I’m recycling a post from a few years ago about Mary Shelley, whose birthday it is today.

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. It’s also a very sad book–if you know anything at all about these people, you’ll know everything ended badly, particularly for the women.

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?

In blatant self promotion, you can enter a contest at Goodreads to win a copy of Hidden Paradise, which recently got this wonderful review at Heroes and Heartbreakers. Go for it.

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10 years ago

I am awfully fond of this comic about Mary Shelley:

Janet Mullany
10 years ago

This is brilliant! Thanks so much for letting us know about it.

Melody May
10 years ago

I haven’t read anything about Mary Shelley, but I watched something the history channel. It was really sad after the death of her love.

10 years ago

Excellent post about one of my figures from Regency times. I loved Passion and was glad to see you recommend it. Now, more than ever I am eager to finally read Frankenstein.

BTW, so disappointed that William Godwin turned out to be such a hypocrite!

10 years ago

I’ve always had the feeling that Shelley thought ideas were more real than people. How else can you explain a man who tells his wife he is going to run off with another woman and asks her if she wants to come along?

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