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Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, born in 1797 and died in 1851 in London, England, was an English Romantic novelist best know as the author of Frankenstein (1818).

The only daughter of social philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Godwin met the young poet percy Bysshe Shelley in the spring of 1814 and eloped with him to France in July of that year. The couple were married in 1816, after Shelley's first wife had committed suicide. Mary apparently came as near as any woman could to meeting Shelley's requirements for his life's partner: "one who can feel poetry and understand philosophy."

After her husband's death in 1822, she returned to England and devoted herself to publicizing Shelley's writings and to educating their only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. She published her late husband's Postumous Poems (1824), and she also edited his Poetical Works (1839), with long and invaluable notes, and his prose works. Her Journal and letters are a rich source of biographical information.

Mary Shelley's best-known novel is Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, in which she narrates the dreadful consequences that arise after a scientist has artificially created a human being. The novel belongs to the contemporary gothic school, which used horror as its primary device. It offered fertile ground for such typically Romantic themes as the relationship of science to humanity and the embodied alter ego.

Mary Shelley wrote several other novels, including Valperga (1823), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837), but The Last Man (1826), an account of the future destruction of the human race by a plague, is still ranked as her best work. Her travel book History of a Six Week's Tour (1817) recounts the continental tour she and Shelley took in 1814 following their elopement and then describes their summer near Geneva in 1816 when Frankenstein was written.

The story of Frankenstein's monster has inspired over 50 films. James Whale's version of Frankenstein (1931), starring Boris Karloff, is considered a classic, and became the major source for a number of other adaptations. Mel Brooks' parody Young Frankenstein (1974), starring Gene Wilder in the role of the famous doctor, was beautifully photographed and received an Academy Award nomination for its script. Kenneth's Branagh's film Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) attempted to be more faithful to the book, with Branagh playing Frankenstein and Robert De Niro as the monster.

--Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, 1995

A selection of Mary Shelley's works.
Find Mary Shelley's works on

Find Mary Shelley's works on

A selection of Mary Shelley non-fiction.

A History of Horror

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