Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Biographical Outline(1797-1851)

Mary Godwin Shelley is the daughter of two of the most brilliant and radical -- and notoriously radical -- English Enlightenment free thinkers of her day: William. Godwin   and Mary Wollstonecraft.  As a child, she grows up around her father's friends, who include the two most important early Romantic English poets: William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge.  At 16 she runs off of one of the most brilliant, and notoriously radical, free thinkers of the Romantic era, Percy Shelley.  Together they meet up with and live briefly with the brilliant and dashing Lord Byron, who is widely considered to be the first "celebrity".  They will also spend a considerable time with their friend John Keats.  In short, her life begins and develops around some of, if not the, most important intellectual and creative geniuses of the era.

Her life among these people will be marked by endless tragedy, much of which occurs before or during the time she writes Frankenstein:

1797: Mary Shelley is born, and two weeks later her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, dies from birthing complications

1798: Following Wollstonecraft's death, Godwin writes/publishes her biography, Memoirs of the Author of The Vindication of the Rights of Women, as an attempt to salvage her reputation.  In the Memoirs he reveals various scandalous facts, such as Wollstonecraft's affairs, one of which produced her first daughter, Fanny, her premarital sex with Godwin, and her two attempts at suicide. The book is an overnight sensation, but not in a good way, and Wollstonecraft's name becomes the pariah of England and widely accepted evidence that her feminist philosophy would undermine society. Way to go dad!

1812: Mary meets her future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, recently expelled from Oxford for publishing The Necessity of Atheism. Shelley leaves his first wife  (Harriet Westbrook (1795-1816)) and becomes Godwin's disciple.  Eventually he will also come to financially support Godwin.

1814: Age 16: Mary runs away and shacks up with Shelley (age 22) who is still married to Westbook. Mary is pregnant with his child (the child will be born prematurely 5 months later and die within days, in Mary's arms).  Percy, who takes the Enlightenment concepts of "liberty" and "freedom" to extremes, has affairs with other women, even, many believe, during the time when Mary is nursing their dying child....

Travel through France and the wreckage of the Napoleonic Wars witnessing first hand the devastating effects of the French Revolution (which had been supported by Godwin, Wordsworth, Shelley etc.)

Godwin and Shelley's father both denounce Shelley and Mary.

1816: Mary at age 19:

:Mary's half sister (Fanny Imlay: daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and Gilbert Imlay) commits suicide; their father Wm. Godwin refuses to identify or claim the body.

:Percy Shelley's very pregnant ex-wife (Harriet Westbrooke) commits suicide

:Mary marries Percy Shelley

:Birth of son William (dies age 3)

:Hanging out in Geneva with Shelley and Byron (two of the greatest living poets, Byron massive pop star)

:Writes Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus June 1816 - May 1817

: Prometheus Unbound - P. Shelley

1822: Percy drowns at age 30 (sailing the Don Juan) (1792-1822)

1824: Byron dies at 36 (1788-1824) (illness, was fighting for Greek independence from Turkey)

1851: Mary Shelley dies, age 53

(Frankenstein has never been out of print)