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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Godwin)

Also Known As: "Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin"
Birthplace: Sussex, England (United Kingdom)
Death: February 01, 1851 (53)
Bournemouth, Bournemouth, UK
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft
Wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Mother of NN Shelley; William Eveline Shelley; Clara Everina Shelley and Sir Percy Florence Shelley, 3rd Baronet
Half sister of William Godwin, Jr and Frances "Fanny" Imlay

Occupation: Writer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was a British novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

Mary Godwin's mother died when she was eleven days old; afterwards, she and her older half-sister, Fanny Imlay, were raised by her father. When Mary was four, Godwin married his neighbour, Mary Jane Clairmont. Godwin provided his daughter with a rich, if informal, education, encouraging her to adhere to his liberal political theories. In 1814, Mary Godwin began a romantic relationship with one of her father’s political followers, the married Percy Bysshe Shelley. Together with Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont, they left for France and travelled through Europe; upon their return to England, Mary was pregnant with Percy's child. Over the next two years, she and Percy faced ostracism, constant debt, and the death of their prematurely born daughter. They married in late 1816 after the suicide of Percy Shelley's first wife, Harriet.

In 1816, the couple famously spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland, where Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein. The Shelleys left Britain in 1818 for Italy, where their second and third children died before Mary Shelley gave birth to her last and only surviving child, Percy Florence. In 1822, her husband drowned when his sailing boat sank during a storm in the Bay of La Spezia. A year later, Mary Shelley returned to England and from then on devoted herself to the upbringing of her son and a career as a professional author. The last decade of her life was dogged by illness, probably caused by the brain tumour that was to kill her at the age of 53.

Until the 1970s, Mary Shelley was known mainly for her efforts to publish Percy Shelley's works and for her novel Frankenstein, which remains widely read and has inspired many theatrical and film adaptations. Recent scholarship has yielded a more comprehensive view of Mary Shelley’s achievements. Scholars have shown increasing interest in her literary output, particularly in her novels, which include the historical novels Valperga (1823) and Perkin Warbeck (1830), the apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826), and her final two novels, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837). Studies of her lesser-known works such as the travel book Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844) and the biographical articles for Dionysius Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia (1829–46) support the growing view that Mary Shelley remained a political radical throughout her life. Mary Shelley's works often argue that cooperation and sympathy, particularly as practised by women in the family, were the ways to reform civil society. This view was a direct challenge to the individualistic Romantic ethos promoted by Percy Shelley and the Enlightenment political theories articulated by her father, William Godwin.

1817 Mary Shelley gives birth to her third child, a daughter named Clara Everina. Shortly after the birth she publishes a book about her 1814 elopement with Shelley entitled History of a Six Weeks' Tour.

Mar 1818 Travels to Italy

The Shelleys travel to Italy in order to convince Lord Byron to give his estranged lover Claire Clairmont access their child. They remain in Italy for several years.

Sep 24, 1818 Daughter Dies

Clara Everina contracts dysentery and dies in Italy.

Jun 7, 1819 Son Dies

The Shelleys' three-year-old son William dies of malaria in Italy. The couple now has no living children, though Mary is pregnant with their fourth.

Nov 12, 1819 Gives Birth to Son

Mary Shelley gives birth to the couple's son Percy Florence, the only one of their children to outlive his parents.

Jul 8, 1822 Percy Bysshe Shelley Dies

Percy Shelley drowns in the Gulf of Spezia while sailing with a friend. A devastated Mary Shelley has his body cremated.

Feb 19, 1823 Valperga Published

Shelley's novel Valperga is published.

Aug 25, 1823 Returns to England

Mary Shelley and her son Percy Florence arrive in Italy from England.

Apr 19, 1824 Lord Byron Dies

Lord Byron dies in Greece.

1824 Shelley's Poems Halted

Mary Shelley begins editing a book of her late husband's poems for publication. She is forced to stop when her father-in-law threatens to cut off support to her and her son unless she pledges never to publish any of his son's works during his lifetime.

Jan 23, 1826 The Last Man Published

Shelley's novel The Last Man is published.

1832 Half-Brother Dies

William Godwin, Jr., the son of Shelley's father and stepmother Mary Jane Clairmont, dies of cholera.

Apr 7, 1836 Father Dies

William Godwin dies in London.

Feb 1837 Falkner Published

Shelley's novel Falkner is published.

Nov 1839 Shelley's Poems Published

Mary Shelley edits and publishes the collected poems of her late husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy Shelley's father agreed to the publication, so long as it contained no memoirs of his son. The following month she publishes a collection of Shelley's essays and assorted writing.

Oct 1845 Blackmail Attempt

A man claiming to be Lord Byron's son threatens to publish letters allegedly written by Mary and Percy Shelley unless Mary Shelley buys them from him. She wins a court injunction to prevent him from doing so.

Feb 1, 1851 Mary Shelley Dies

Mary Shelley dies at her London home after a long illness, possibly caused by a brain tumor.

Feb 8, 1851 Burial

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is buried in the graveyard of St. Peter's church in Bournemouth. Her parents' remains are moved from St. Pancras and buried on either side of her.

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Mary Shelley's Timeline

August 30, 1797
Sussex, England
February 22, 1815
January 24, 1816
September 2, 1817
November 12, 1819
February 1, 1851
Age 53
Bournemouth, Bournemouth, UK