Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mary Shelley

English writer Mary Shelley is best known for her horror novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818).

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later known as Mary Shelley, was born in Somers Town, London, England, on the 30th of August 1797. She was the daughter of William Godwin, a journalist, philosopher and novelist, and Mary Wollstonecraft, educator and feminist philosopher which was to die only 11 days after her birth, from puerperal fever. She and her four years older half-sister Fanny Imlay, were raised and educated by her father who encouraged them to write from early age. Mary Shelley became an essayist, biographer, short story writer, and novelist, famous for her novel Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus, from 1818. Similar to her mother, Shelley led a complicated private life and suffered much ostracism due to her affair with the married man Percy Bysshe Shelley, which was later to become her husband. Shelly also lost three of her children prematurely until the birth of her only surviving child Percy Florence, born in 1819. Shelley's husband also died prematurely sailing into a storm. Shelley herself died on the 1st of February 1851, after struggling through her last years most likely with a brain tumor.

When Mary Shelley was four years old, her father married Mary Jane Clairmont, their neighbor, who had already two children of her own. His new wife was disliked by most of Godwin's friends and she and Mary did not get along. From an early age, Mary was encouraged by her father to write letters and she took an early liking to writing. She was also encouraged to embrace her father's sociopolitical liberal views and theories and was mostly informally educated, at home. Mary Shelley had access to her father's library, had a governess and a daily tutor. She was later sent to stay with William Baxter, a known radical, and his family in Scotland. At the age of fifteen, she was described by her father as "singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible."

In 1814, with seventeen years old, Mary Shelley started a relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of her father's political admirers and a married man. Percy was also helping Godwin financially and, due to his admiration for Godwin's political thought, he was alienated from his aristocratic surroundings. Percy and Mary Shelley started meeting secretly at her mother's grave and when her father discovered, he tried to finish the relationship, without success. The couple travelled to France with Mary's step sister Claire Clairmont and only returned when there was no money left. Upon their return, Mary Shelley was pregnant and her father, to her surprise, refused any help. Percy was constantly leaving home, escaping from creditors and also at the time Percy's wife gave birth to their son and Percy seemed to want Mary Shelley to have an affair with his friend Hogg. They left to Geneva with Claire Clairmont in 1816, to spend the summer with Lord Byron, Claire's affair at the time. The bad weather confined them to the house and they spend much of their time talking about galvanism and reading ghost stories which prompted her to write the first sketch of what was to become her most famous novel Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus.

Mary Shelley's most famous novel, Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus, was released anonymously when she was only 21 years old. Only from its second edition, five years later, was her name to appear as the author. It was initially thought that the author was her husband Percy, as the book was dedicated to William Godwin, his political hero. The work came out of a competition proposed by Lord Byron in the summer of 1816 so as who could write the best horror story. The central idea came to Shelly in a dream where she saw a student putting together parts of a man's body and working through a big engine to animate it. She first wrote a short story but Percy encouraged her to expand it into a novel. The novel had at the center of its plot a failed attempt at artificial life, by the scientist Frankenstein, which produced a monster. The work is considered to be a mixture of science fiction, gothic novel, and having elements from the Romantic movement. It was partly inspired by the electrical experiments conducted on dead and living animals by the italian physicist Giovanni Aldini. Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus is also seen as a warning about the transformations of man under the Industrial Revolution. In what is the chronological end of the novel's story, even if the scene belongs to the beginning of the book, Frankenstein warns about the terrible effects of letting oneself be driven by ambition and loosing control over its own possibilities.

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