- "I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created."
The Last Man
- "This intelligence brought us back from the prospect of paradise, held out after the lapse of a hundred thousand years, to the pain and misery at present existent upon earth."
Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in 1797, her mother died shortly after childbirth, and she was raised with a number of half- and step-siblings. Her father, William Godwin, was a philosopher and journalist who believed (scandalously, radically, for that time) that girls should be educated in the same manner as boys. From this rich, albeit informal home education, young Mary was able to publish her first work at the age of ten. The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was an acolyte of her father, and the two eloped to Europe when Mary was sixteen.
The years leading up to the publication of her most famous work, 'Frankenstein,' or 'The Modern Prometheus,' are worthy of the most Gothic tragedy of the era. Estranged from her father because of the elopement and with one half-sister scandalously embroiled with Lord Byron (now in exile in Switzerland), the Shelleys joined Byron's retinue on the shores of Lake Geneva. The events of the summer of 1816 are recounted by Shelley in her prologue to 'Frankenstein,' how the writers challenged each other to write a horror story to share. Someone else in that group wrote a story about a lady whose head was a skull and who peeked through key-holes. They tried their best, no doubt. Frankenstein's place in the canon of literature is undisputed. It is heralded as the first English-language science fiction novel. It explores psychological horror and the interconnection of self-destruction and the fear of creation's power. It drew on a solid knowledge of the scientific discoveries of the age, and then posited how those technologies might be applied in the creation of artificial life. First published anonymously in 1818, Mary was recognized as the author in time.
The Shelleys were probably the foremost husband-and-wife English-language writers of their age. Mary took up a close friendship with the volatile Byron, and started working on her own material as Percy's poetry achieved acclaim. When Percy Shelley drowned in a boating accident in 1822, Mary returned to England and continued to publish novels, poems, stories, and other works, managed the literary rights to her husband's works, and secured a comfortable living for herself until her death in 1851. None of her other works achieved the popular success of 'Frankenstein,' but Mary Shelley was able to rise from the considerable personal tragedies of her life to shine as a literary light in her own right.