Mary Wollenscraft Shelley

(1797-1851)

  • Title: Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus
  • Author: Mary Wollenscraft Shelley
  • Publication Date: 1831
  • Publisher: London: H. Colburn and R. Bentley
Source: archive.org

Mary Wollenscraft Shelley grew up around several important book history literary stars. Her father, William Godwin Wollenscraft, was a journalist and political philosopher. Her mother, Mary Wollenscraft, was an author as well. She penned A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and is known as the mother of feminism. Shelley’s mother died shortly after she was was born, leaving her to be raised by her father and stepmother. Wollenscraft was an important part of the literary crowds in London and Mary Shelley grew up around authors like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. She met her future husband and fellow author, Percy Shelley, at a gathering her father held. Their relationship would result in the beginning of modern science fiction and horror genres when Shelley wrote Frankenstein: Or The Modern Prometheus. (Wu, 2012). Below: Early covers of Prometheus Unbound (by Percy Shelley) & Frankenstein. (Source: The Shelley-Godwin Archive).

Shelley began the story of Frankenstein while participating in a ghost story-telling contest with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron at Lake Geneva. One stormy evening by the lake the group decided to have a ghost story telling contest. Mary’s journals say that she had the idea for Frankenstein’s monster because she had lost a baby, and imagined what it might be like if the little one had come back to life. The novel was also written during a difficult year in Europe. The year saw pandemics, epidemics, political revolts, and a cold summer with growing season resulting in famine. It is no surprise that dark tales would result (Blackmore). Shelley’s novel is filled with elements of Romanticism including; exploration of hubris, religion, fear of science, and a fascination with death. Since its creation, Shelley has become known as the mother of science fiction and modern horror.

Check out the Shelley-Godwin Archive where you can view transcribed edits of the Frankenstein notebooks where Shelley created the original manuscripts. Pictured below.

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