The Monster: Speaking The Unspeakable

RothwellMaryShelleyOne hundred sixty three years ago today, writer Mary Shelley died of an apparent brain tumor. She was fifty-three years old (1797-1851). Known primarily for her Gothic/horror novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s life (both literary and personal) was marked by enormous challenges and tragedy.

Any discussion of Mary Shelley is inextricably linked with that of her parents and her poet husband as well. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, (1759-1797) died less than two weeks after delivering her second child, Mary. [Other resources provide biographical information on Mary Wollstonecraft. Suffice to say, the woman was a writer/philosopher whose unconventional life and opinions have earned her folk-hero status among some of today’s feminists.]

Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin (1756-1836), was also a philosopher, political thinker, writer and publisher. The life and literary achievements of Mary’s husband, Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), often overshadowed Mary Shelley’s personal accomplishments. That may have been partly by design, because following Percy’s untimely death, Mary devoted the rest of her life to ensuring Percy’s writing would continue to be remembered in the public consciousness.

frankscover_largeAlthough Mary Shelley wrote several novels, her most enduring work is Frankenstein, subtitled The Modern Prometheus. It was first published in 1818. In the preface, Shelley describes how the novel was birthed. As a challenge between Percy, Lord Byron and herself (Wikipedia notes four partners in the adventure), Mary’s preface clearly states she and “two friends” agreed to see which one could write a story “founded on some supernatural occurrence.”

Suggestions that Frankenstein was in any measure autobiographical have been discussed through the years. I ran across one such treatment in this online post.

Whether Frankenstein is autobiographical or not, we know writers generally reflect in their writing what is happening to them and around them in their daily lives, often on a subconscious (rather than intentional) level. Mary Shelley wrote reflecting the world where she was, as well as the people and situations that animated her world. Continue reading “The Monster: Speaking The Unspeakable”