Mary Shelley & The Birth of Frankenstein, Part 1
Today, we begin a five-part weekly series “Mary Shelley and The Birth of Frankenstein” with SARAH PARKIN, examining how England’s greatest gothic horror novel came to be. First off, we learn how the author’s parents had a strong influence on the making of the masterpiece.
What comes to mind when you hear the name of Mary Shelley? There’s at least one obvious answer. The woman who gave the world Frankenstein and wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of few women whose marriage to another writer has not overshadowed her own literary achievement. That’s hardly surprising – the 1818 classic is a major contribution to the Gothic genre and arguably the first science fiction novel in English literature. It’s also gripping, original and genuinely frightening. Still, it wasn’t shaped in a vacuum, and neither was its creator. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, as she was born, was surrounded by literary and political influences that can be traced throughout her remarkable career, and nowhere more clearly than Frankenstein.
By far the most significant influences were her parents. Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died of puerperal fever 11 days after giving birth, but remained an important presence throughout her daughter’s childhood. The author of an array of treatises including A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and the novels Mary and the unfinished Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman was renowned for her radical views and has since earned a place in the history of feminist thinkers. However, her unconventional lifestyle – including her illegitimate daughter from an earlier relationship – was placed in the spotlight when her husband, Mary’s father William Godwin, published a memoir of her which spoke candidly of her sexual history. The scandal which became attached to Wollstonecraft’s name persisted throughout Mary’s lifetime, but she was also keenly aware of her mother’s literary achievements: she was as much of a presence as her portrait staring down from the wall in Godwin’s study.