Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley was born on August 30 in 1797 in London. Mary’s broken family life has shaped several themes in her writing. Her father, William Godwin, was a novelist and philosopher, and her mother was a Jacobin feminist and novelist. Mary Shelley’s mother died from a placental infection, and Mary and her half-sister Fanny were taken care of by Louisa Jones until her father remarried. Mary and her new stepmother, Mary Jane Clairmont, did not have a good relationship. More friction rose within the family when Mary Shelley’s father, influenced by Mary Jane, started to publish children’s books, causing many financial problems for years to come. Mary Shelley died in 1851 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Mary Shelley’s father described her as “singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active state of mind.”
A young poet named Percy Bysshe Shelley began to visit Mary’s father as a mentor—soon, however, he began to visit Mary in the start of a romantic relationship. Controversially, Percy was married to a woman named Harriet at the time, but that didn’t stop him from requesting to marry Mary, to which request her father refused. It was here that madness introduced itself to Mary’s life. Instead of submitting to her father, Mary and Percy thought it would be better to escape and liberate themselves. Percy came into the Godwin household a couple days later with a pistol and a bottle of laudanum (an herbal alcoholic beverage containing opium) and declared he and Mary would both commit suicide if Mary’s father would not let them marry. It was then that Marry ran off (now having a child together, Claire) with Percy in fear he was serious about taking his own life. This insane string of events led Mary to write Ladore, brought from watching her husband having to go into hiding so he wouldn’t be arrested for debt.
Claire became Lord Byron’s mistress, and stories of incest erupted, saying that Mary was sleeping with Byron as well. These rumors of orgies, incest, and affairs would cling to Mary until she died—it “served as a crucial factor in her ostracism from society.” Byron was the one to suggest they each write a ghost story, where Mary created her famous Frankenstein. Mary experienced a lot of death in her life—beginning with her mother, she lost many children and her husband and his close friend shortly after.
Being disowned by her father, dealing with the many deaths of children and later her husband, it is not surprising Mary’s stories revolve around monstrosity and the destructions of human relationships. Both Frankenstein and Valperga have to do with themes of the disturbance to society by individual men or parties.
“Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1797-1851.” Literature Online Biography 2001. Web. 9 Feb. 2010.