An Ode To Mary Shelley, Queen Of Gothic

Happy birthday, Mary Shelley! Let’s talk about how she kept it so interesting as a woman writer in the gothic era.

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My first real introduction to Mary Shelley and her gothic writing style was in one of my level-200 English classes at my university. I know, a late start, but I knew of her and her writings. Specifically, I learned some really interesting information about her that, to say the least, got me intrigued. But away from that, she really was a very interesting woman, so here are some of the things that caught my attention.

She Was The Daughter Of A Philosopher And Feminist


Born to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, Shelley had an interesting family dynamic. Her mother passed away soon after her birth, leaving her father to raise both her and her older sister, Fanny Imlay, whom her mother had from an affair. Her father then married Mary Jane Clairmont, who brought in two other children and also denied Shelley a proper education. So, alongside the notable figures who spent time in her home (like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth), she made use of her father’s extensive library. And her pastime? Writing. She published her first poem in 1807.

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus Was Inspired By A Friendly Horror Writing Competition


She gained inspiration in Switzerland in 1816 while spending time with her soon-to-be husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Jane Clairmont, Lord Byron, and John Polidori. They decided to entertain themselves by giving horror story writing a go. Shelley, though, continued writing her horror story and it would later become one of her most famous novels, and was published in 1818.

Her Husband Was Given The Credit, But Not For Long


When Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, she published it anonymously. And considering it was the early 1800s, it wasn’t necessarily suitable for a woman to be writing horror novels about a scientist creating life and regretting it. And considering her husband was already a poet, it made sense for the readers to affiliate it with him. But considering her name is now on the cover, and she also continued to publish incredibly popular novels, that affiliation did not last long.

She Was Surrounded By Death

IMAGE VIA MARY SHELLEY (2018), Hastings Independent Press

Unfortunately, Shelley’s life was surrounded by the deaths of her loved ones. Starting with her mother, as well as the loss of four of their five children, her half-sister Fanny by suicide, and her husband who died by drowning in 1822, leaving her a 24-year-old widow and single mother to their surviving son, Percy Florence. She devoted her life to writing and supporting her son, as well as ensuring her late husband’s legacy in the literary world.

And lastly…

Mary Kept Her Husbands Heart In Her Office


I feel like this may be a pretty well-known fact, but nonetheless shocking. I think when I heard this for the first time, I genuinely did not know how to react. Like, it fits her personality and vibe I think? But also, why? For what reason? It was her keepsake of her late, apparently tuberculosis-riddled, husband. And because of a case of tuberculosis, the heart was indestructible and calcified. And when she died in 1851 of a brain tumor, it was found in her desk wrapped in the papers of her husband’s poem Adonais.

There is so much more to Mary Shelley than just these–not only did death surround her life, but rumors and a legacy that survives through movies, rewritings, and more in the modern-day world.