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Mary Shelley: Life of Literature

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"I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on" (SparkNote on Frankenstein). This famous quote said by Frankenstein, in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which leaves a lasting impression on the reader was intended by Shelley. Literature was a major part of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's childhood and adulthood.

Mary Shelley's parents brought literature to her from the day she was born. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, as she was named at birth, was born to two intellectual rebels of their day, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, on August 30th, 1797. Mary Wollstonecraft was the celebrated author of A Vindication of the Right's of Woman (Mary Shelley Biography). Godwin was the author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice.

Just twelve days, later her mother would pass away due to puerperal fever (Garrett 9). This left William to care for Mary and Fanny Imlay, Mary's three-year-old half sister. William would spend a few months putting together Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman which would be published in January of 1798. It is a sensitive, yet factual account of the life and writings of Mary, including her infatuation with the painter Henry Fuseli, her affair with former officer in the American Revolutionary Army, Gilbert Imlay, the father of Fanny, and her two unsuccessful attempts at taking her own life (Mary Shelley Biography). The unintended consequence of the honesty became a scandal which took many years to die away. In 1801, William married Mary Jane Clairmont, their next-door neighbor. She already had two illegitimate children (Garrett 10). Mary Shelley 's relationship with her stepmother was strained and filled with tension. The new Mrs. Godwin resented Mary's intense affection for her father. Not only did she demand that Mary do household chores, she constantly encroached on Mary's privacy, opening her letters and limiting her access to William. She also did not encourage Mary's intellectual development or love of reading (Mary Shelley Biography). William often times pressed the children to read. He opened a bookshop which would also become a publishing company. Among the books published by the Godwins, Tales from Shakespeare was one of the many children's books published (Garrett 12). Mary, who never received any formal education and learned to read from Louisa Jones and Godwin, followed Godwin's advice that the proper way to study was to read two or three books simultaneously. Fortunately for Mary, she had access to her father's excellent library (Mary Shelley Biography).

Mary's favorite pastime as a child was to write stories. In 1808 her reworking of Charles Dibdin's five-stanza song Mounseer Nongtongpaw was published by the Godwin Juvenile Library. This version became so popular that it was republished in 1830. Meanwhile, as Mary became a young woman, the tension with Mrs. Godwin increased (Mary Shelley Biography). In the summer of 1812, Godwin sent Mary to visit William Baxter, an acquaintance who lived in Dundee, Scotland. With the Baxter family, Mary experienced a happiness she had rarely known. A friendship soon developed between Mary and his two daughters, Christina and Isabel. Isabel was an avid reader of Mary Wollstonecraft's works which led to the strong bond her and Mary acquired (Garrett 14). On her return to London in November 1812, Mary met for the first time Godwin's new, young, and wealthy disciple, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife, Harriet Westbrook Shelley. The son of a man of fortune, Percy had received a superior education at Eton and briefly at Oxford, where he was expelled for writing The Necessity of Atheism (Garrett 16). Before the age of seventeen, he had published two Gothic romances. Shelley shared Godwin's belief that the greatest justice is done when he who possesses money gives it to whomever has greatest need of it (Garrett 16). Therefore, it was not long before Shelley was supporting Godwin financially. When Mary next met Percy, on May 5th, 1814, she viewed him as a generous young idealist and as a budding genius. He, in turn, had become dissatisfied with his wife and was affected by Mary's beauty, her intellectual interests, and by her identity as the "daughter of William and Mary." Upon discovering the relationship, Godwin, while still accepting Percy Shelley's money, forbade him from visiting the house. Mary tried to obey her father's commands, but Percy's attempted suicide convinced Mary of the strength of his love, and on July 28th, 1814 she fled with him to France (Mary Shelley Biography). Her childhood was filled with much literature and drama, and her adulthood would be no different.

Although Mary gave birth to four children, only one survived to adulthood. The first, a girl, was born prematurely and died eleven days later in 1815; William, born in 1816, died of malaria in 1819; Clara Everina, born in 1817, perished from dysentery the next year; Percy Florence, born in 1819, died in 1889. In 1822 Mary miscarried during her fifth pregnancy and nearly lost her life as well. With the suicides of Fanny Godwin and Harriet Shelley in 1816, death was much on her mind (Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (1797-1851)). Before Mary Shelley wrote her most popular novel, she published History of a Six Weeks' Tour through a part of France, Switzerland,



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