Six Gruesome and Gothic Facts About Mary Shelley

“There is love in me the likes of which you’ve never seen. There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape. If I am not to satisfy one, I will indulge the other.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Mary Shelley; perhaps you’ve heard the name, or maybe you’re more familiar with her most famous piece of writing, ‘Frankenstein’, first published in 1818. But irregardless of whether or not you’re familiar with her, Mary Shelley is so often forgotten when  bringing up the subject of brilliant writers, it’s damn near blasphemy if you ask me!

Tomorrow (August 30th) is Mary Shelley’s birthday; I knew ahead of time I wanted to do something here on my blog to honor her, but after attending the Mary Shelley panel at Comic Con San Diego this year, I learned so many fascinating, if not downright hilarious or bizarre facts about Mary, I knew I had to share. So with further ado, I present to you some my favorite facts about Mary Shelley;

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1: Mary Shelley’s Famous Family

Mary was born on the 30th of August in 1797, to parents Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Yes, the famous feminist writer and anarchist philosopher! Because of her parentage, Mary grew up in a house of intellectuals, and met several famous people throughout her life, famous poets, philosophers, and politicians alike. She later married the renowned romantic poet Percy Shelley, who left his pregnant first wife to be with her.

2: Mary Shelley’s Sexual Adventures

After Mary and her eventual-husband Percy Shelley met, the two would meet in secret at her mother’s grave because William Godwin (Mary’s father) disapproved of their relationship. Could this be due to the fact that Percy was in his twenties and Mary was only sixteen? Perhaps. From letters and journal entries on Mary’s part, it is known that in the summer of 1814, the two confessed their love for each other, and at this secret meeting site, the two fell into a ‘sublime and rapturous moment’.

In short, Mary Shelley lost her virginity on her mother’s grave that day. Eventually, to escape the disapproval of her father, Mary and Percy ran away to Paris to elope, taking Mary’s step sister Claire with them. Though Mary was years ahead of her time when it came to her beliefs in sexual freedom and ‘free love’, Mary only had love for Percy, even though it is rumored that Percy began having an affair with Claire (Mary’s step sister) while Mary was pregnant with their first child.

There is little evidence to support this, other than the fact that Mary was often left alone in their home in France, pregnant, while Percy went out to hang out with Claire. Percy, a fellow ‘free love’ believer, encouraged Mary to begin a relationship with his friend, writer Thomas Jefferson Hogg, but Mary wasn’t interested. Her step sister Claire later became pregnant from an affair with Percy Shelley’s friend, Lord Byron.

3: The Horror Story Challenge

Accounts of Mary’s journal tells of Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron hanging out together discussing the occult and reading ghost stories, when Lord Byron decides to challenge everyone to write a horror story. Mary struggled to come up with an idea, and writes of “that blank incapability of invention which is the greatest misery of authorship.”

The idea for the book, she wrote in a preface during the 1831 publication (see fact 4!) of Frankenstein, came to her during a dream; where she saw the “hideous phantasm of a man” being brought back from the dead by “the working of some powerful engine.”

4: There Are TWO Versions of Frankenstein

Though Mary Shelley began writing ‘Frankenstein’ when she was 19, it was first published anonymously when she was 21, in 1818. The second version was revised and published in 1831, following the death of her husband, Percy Shelley. Percy and Mary always worked closely together while writing, bouncing ideas off each other and one helping the other edit and revise their works.

The majority of scholars believed that the original 1818 text of Frankenstein undoubtedly was closer to Mary’s original vision of the story. She later revised it probably to deal with critics who objected and protested the book due to moral issues. Since the 1831 publication is also noted to be less harsh than the original version, Mary undoubtedly ‘softened’ things as a way of dealing with the hardships of her life; never knowing her mother, the death of her husband, and losing two children before the age of one.

5: Percy Shelley’s Calcified Heart

Percy Shelley’s death came about in the Summer of 1822, by a tragic boating accident which caused him to drown. Percy was cremated, but his heart had become completely calcified by the salt water, and did not burn. Mary Shelley kept her dead husband’s heart in her desk drawer wrapped in the pages of his poems for the rest of her life, along with the locks of hair from her dead children.

6: Mary Shelley’s Death

From the mid-1840’s to early 1850’s, Mary’s life was pretty rough. Percy Shelley was never a great husband but she refused to remarry despite a lot of proposal letters and declarations of love. Mary continued to be a feminist that her mother would’ve been proud of, extending financial and legal aid to other woman looked down upon by society, but throughout the 1840’s was harassed by a series of blackmailers threatening to publish Mary’s private letters and ‘damaging’ biographies about her late husband, Percy Shelley.

After a few years’ struggle with headaches and sudden, albeit temporary, spurts of paralysis, Mary Shelley died early 1851, at just fifty-three years old from a brain tumor. She was buried in Bournemouth, England, with the calcified heart of her late husband.

Mary Shelley’s life was full of death and sadness, despite her adventures throughout Europe and her unrelenting devotion to her husband. She was an absolute revolutionary, and years ahead of her time in terms of political beliefs and the philosophy found in her writing.

Though Frankenstein is her most popular work, she is the author of seven novels, multiple poems, dozens of short stories, and a slew of biographies and travel narratives. Despite her vast accomplishments in the literary world, Mary tends to get put in the back burner of famous women writers and Gothic literature.

Even though ‘Frankenstein’ and Mary Shelley are most often credited with having created the science fiction genre, many people (albeit ignorant people, no doubt) aren’t even aware that ‘Frankenstein’ was written by a woman.

On August 30th, do us all a favor and honor Mary Shelley however you see fit; remember her for the bad ass she was.


2 thoughts on “Six Gruesome and Gothic Facts About Mary Shelley

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  1. If you’re interested in the parallels between the lives of mother and daughter Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, you may enjoy “Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley” by Charlotte Gordon. The book weaves both their lives together, showing their formative years, literary leanings, heartbreak and futures.


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