Horror Hall of Fame: Mary Shelley

Horror Hall of Fame: Mary Shelley

Full Name: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (née Godwin)
Born: 1797

Died: 1851 
Profession: Writer 

Mary Shelley is generally remembered for being the young woman who penned Frankenstein.

It’s no bad thing that this one story dominates Shelley’s legacy, I mean the book defined/created a genre and paved the way for a lot of horror as we know it, so its a pretty good one. However, Frankenstein wasn’t Shelley’s only achievement. Gifted though she was, Mary Shelley lived a tragic and turbulent life, full of despair and famous faces.

Want to know more about her? Check out these facts we compiled just for you to find out more about the mother of monsters!


Queen of the Goths

  • Mary Shelley’s full name was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Sound familiar? It should! Mary’s mother was Mary Wollstonecraft; famed advocate of women’s rights, who penned the iconic “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”. Mary’s mother died not long after giving birth to Mary. This lost weighed heavy with Mary throughout her life.
  • Mary Shelley (or Mary Godwin as she was at the time), fell deeply in love with the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when she was just 16. Percy Shelley was already married at this point (and his wife was pregnant, too), but clearly that mattered little to him. As such, the two would meet secretly in the graveyard where Mary’s mother was buried. It was upon their admission of ardent love for one another that Mary Shelley cemented her place as Queen of the Goths when she (supposedly) lost her virginity on her mother’s grave. More innocently (and more practically), it is also said that Mary learned to write her own name by tracing her mother’s name on her headstone.

La Vie Bohème 

  • Mary travelled quite a lot throughout her life, living between France, Italy, and England. It was in Italy, in fact, that Frankenstein was born. Mary would travel with Percy Shelley, and their group of friends, including the illustrious Lord Byron. The group would often share folkloric and spooky stories around the fire at night, until one night Lord Byron challenged everyone to come up with their own scary stories. Well, for the literary talent present that shouldn’t be a problem, right? That night, Mary had a vivid dream that led her to create what many regard as the progenitor of science-fiction
  • Throughout her life, Mary experienced much loss and difficulty. Her sister killed herself, and she lost all but one of her children. She also did not know financial stability until later in her life (and even that was tenuous). Understandably, she would often find herself deep in bouts of depression.

Hail Mary

  • Mary and Percy had what we would call a “non-exclusive” marriage. The two (Percy in particular) would often take lovers and have relationships with other people, though to Mary no-one fully measured up to Percy. She has, however, been described as being “a little in love” with her female friend and poet Jane Williams. In fact, Mary moved across the country to be closer to Jane…and her husband.
  • Mary Shelley worked secretly to help her friend Isabel Robinson and her lover Mary Diana Dods forge false papers so that they could move to France together as husband and wife. However, upon a visit the year after, Shelley contracted smallpox and nearly died. Luckily, she pulled through. Mary made a habit of helping and defending women who society would often write off, such as single mothers, sex workers, queer women, or those in particular financial difficulty. Her mother would have been proud.


Mary Shelley: Keeping it Goth

  • While Frankenstein remains Shelley’s most famous work (and one of the most famous pieces of literature, like, of all time), Shelley wrote plenty more. Her work was varied, from editing her father’s and husband’s works, to writing her own plays and travel diaries. Shelley also wrote historical biographies for encyclopaedias and would also write short stories for gift books (little keepsake books). However, some critics described these particular stores as “overly wordy”…weird how William Wordsworth never had that come his way for his gift book work…
  • Mary dedicated the rest of her life to Percy, her son. When he married, Mary got on famously with his wife, and lived and travelled with the couple. Upon her death, which from doctors’ best guesses was due to a tumour on her brain, she asked her son and daughter-in-law to bury her with her parents. Upon checking out the graveyard where Mary’s parents were buried, Percy was not happy with having his mama rest there. It wasn’t the nicest place (and Mary was quite the connoisseur, as we know), so Percy Jr arranged to have the bodies of his grandparents exhumed so that Mary could be buried in with them somewhere nicer. We love a dedicated son.
  • After her death, while sorting through Mary’s personal effects, Percy Jr and his wife found something in one of Mary’s drawers. Wrapped in a silk pouch and a page from Adonaïs (Percy Shelley’s most famous poem), they found the calcified remains of Percy Shelley’s heart. If you’re gonna do Goth, do it the Mary Shelley way.


Mary Shelley; a Horror Heroine

An fitting first entry into our Horror Heroine Hall of Fame – Mary Shelley’s legacy is one of the most enduring within the horror genre. While a whole separate article could be written about the differences between Book Frankenstein and Movie Frankenstein, the fact we are still having that conversation proves the importance of her work. She lived a life blighted by tragedy, but nonetheless she did what she could with what she had – and in the process gave us one of the greatest works of literature…well…probably ever. A progenitor of a genre, don’t let anyone tell you sci-fi is by guys, for guys – it was made and defined by a woman.

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