Great Women in History: Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley (1797-1851) was a trailblazer, a fire cracker, and a brilliant writer. The daughter of a suffragette (her mother published one of the earliest books promoting the equal treatment of women and men) and a philosopher, she left her own mark on the world at the bright, young age of 19, when she published The Modern Prometheus, more commonly known as Frankenstein.

A free spirit, Mary ran away from home at the tender age of 16, with one of her father’s political followers, a renowned liberal, rogue, and all-around forward thinker, not to mention a luminary poet, Percy Shelley. In him, she found a genuine partner, who respected her and inspired her creatively, who she wrote and read collaboratively with until he died. She even participated in one of the greatest ‘boys clubs’ of her day, swapping ideas and advice with Lord Byron and his friends at his Swiss Villa. It was there that she created the story of Frankenstein in a bid to come up with a remarkable scary story. Of that life-changing, elusive dream of a summer, Mary said:

“It was the moment when I first stepped out from childhood in to life.”

She was a woman who faced trauma and pain, time and again, suffering multiple miscarriages and rejection from society for her modern sensibilities, but instead of succumbing to these pressures, she used them to drive her writing forward in to uncharted territory. Frankenstein is even said to be a birth myth (you’ll never read it as a straightforward monster tale again), through which Shelley came to terms with her guilt for causing her mother’s demise (she died in childbirth) as well as her own failings as a parent. Mary went on to write many other short stories, novels and plays including: Matilda, Valpera, The Last Man and Lodore, among others, each underpinned with a sense of wit and uncanny depth.

Mary Shelley reminds me of one of Kristin Cashore’s contemporary, feminist heroines in Fire or Graceling, because she made choices in life where she followed her instincts in order to shape and challenge herself as a woman, and a writer, becoming a strong individual in her own right. She definitely deserves a closer look…


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