Mary Shelley is both a gothic icon and something of a mysterious enigma. She penned one of the most well-known sci-fi/horror novels, Frankenstein, which to this day continues to fascinate and frighten.
Between dalliances, passionate rebellions, and obsessive writing practices, Mary Shelley led quite the exciting life for a 19th century gal. In celebration of her birthday, read on for 5 strange facts about Mary Shelley, the true Dr. Frankenstein!
1. Mary Shelley was born to infamous parents...
Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on August 30, 1797 to political theorist and novelist William Godwin, and feminist writer and activist Mary Wollstonecraft, little Mary was destined to turn out to be a rather unique character. Her mother died only 12 days after she was born, but Mary spent countless hours pouring over her mother's feminist writings, and visiting her gravestone.
Both parents lived what would be considered unorthodox lifestyles at the time and were firmly against the marriage institution, took multiple lovers during their lifetimes, and often expressed shocking opinions in their writing. Growing up in such an environment heavily influenced Mary Shelley's future as a female writer in 19th century England.
2. Mary Shelley ran away from home at 16...
With such an eccentric pair as parents, it should come as no surprise that Mary grew up to be a headstrong and very independent young woman. So much so, that at the age of 16 she decided to run away from home with a married man! Percy Shelley was one of the young intellectuals that frequented the Godwin household as a disciple of Mary's father, William.
Percy found himself intrigued by young Mary Godwin, and he quickly fell in love with her passionate and intelligent nature.
But when Percy announced to Mr. Godwin that he was in love with his daughter, Godwin did everything he could to keep them apart. Not only did he fear that Mary's reputation and future prospects would be ruined if she ran away with a married man, but he worried his other two daughters, Fanny and Jane, would suffer a lack of marriage proposals as well. However, Mary went against her father's wishes and traipsed off to France, and later Switzerland, with Percy and her sister Jane in tow.
3. Mary Shelley was only 18 when she wrote Frankenstein...
When reading Frankenstein it's easy to assume that the novel was penned by an older, more seasoned writer. But in fact, Mary Shelley was a mere teenager when she wrote it. She created it after Lord Byron, a fellow writer and close friend, challenged her to write a ghost story while they were summering in Switzerland.
However, Frankenstein did not find easy success and was rejected by three publishers before the Lackington Company finally agreed to pick it up. It was published in early 1818 with the author listed as anonymous. Another 5 years would go by before Mary Shelley would see her name put on the famous gothic work. Despite its many bad reviews, Frankenstein became an almost instant favorite among readers who loved the gothic moral tale of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster.
4. Mary Shelley wrote more than just Frankenstein...
Mary Shelley was anything but a one-hit wonder. Not only was she an incredibly driven and prolific writer, but Mary loved experimenting with a variety of genres and penned much more than just her infamous Frankenstein.
A few of her works include the historical fiction Valperga, and an apocalyptic novel called The Last Man which—in a twist perhaps most appropriate for the current year we're having—explored a world in which the population has been decimated by a deadly plague. Mary also worked extensively with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron on their works and showed an extreme dedication to her writing career, despite her rather scandal-ridden personal life!
5. Mary Shelley held on to her dead husband's heart...
Yes, you did read that correctly, Mary Shelley actually kept Percy Shelley's heart after he died in a boating accident at the young age of 29. According to accounts, Percy Shelley was cremated following the accident, but for some reason his heart would not burn.
Some experts believe it may have calcified due to an earlier encounter with tuberculosis, but whatever the reason, Mary Shelley inherited her husband's entire heart. Instead of burying it with the rest of his remains, Mary decided to keep the heart in a silk satchel and carry it around with her. After she passed away, the heart was discovered in Mary's desk drawer wrapped in one of her husband's poems. Now if that isn't the most gothic tale for a gothic queen, then I don't know what is.
Which of these is your favourite Mary Shelley factoid? Tell us in the comments below and be sure to check out the Frankenstein poster for sale in our shop!