Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Daughter of Mary
– republican ideals
– feminist: for women’s
education & independence
– died about 11 days after birth
of Mary
and William Godwin:
– egalitarian state, free of laws
and gov’t, organized in small
communities where individuals
work and study daily
both against legalized marriage
(married 5 months before
Mary’s birth)
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
published her first poem at age
at 16 ran away with married
Shelley to France and
wrote Frankenstein at 19
out of 4 children only one
Percy drowned in a boating
accident (1822)
Mary died in 1851
Frankenstein considered a
major gothic work and the first
science fiction novel
Other titles:
The Last Man (1826): the end of civilization,
gradual destruction of human race, seen as a
“total corrosion of patriarchal order”
 also:
Mathilde (1819, not pub. until 1959)
Proserpine and Midas, mythological drama (1820)
Valperga (1823)
The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830),
Lodore (1835), Falkner (1837)
Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844)
a variety of short stories, essays and poems
Frankenstein (1818, 1831)
The Author’s introduction
hideous progeny?
the scientist and discovery:
misguided education
parent-child relationship / responsibility
gender characteristics / separation of sexes
friendship / isolation
man vs. nature
reliability of narrative transmission
Walton’s letters: why does Shelley frame the novel with Walton’s
what issues / themes do they raise?
 benefit to mankind
 glory
How are these issues / themes developed in Frankenstein’s
1818 edition
Cf. p. 16
“But before I continue my narrative, I must record an incident which took place when I
was four years of age.
My father had a sister, whom he tenderly loved, and who had married early in life an
Italian gentleman. Soon after her marriage, she had accompanied her husband into his native
country, and for some years my father had very little communication with her. About the time I
mentioned she died; and a few months afterwards he received a letter from her husband,
acquainting him with his intention of marrying an Italian lady, and requesting my father to take
charge of the infant Elizabeth, the only child of his deceased sister. "It is my wish," he said, "that
you should consider her as your own daughter, and educate her thus. Her mother's fortune is
secured to her, the documents of which I will commit to your keeping. Reflect upon this
proposition; and decide whether you would prefer educating your niece yourself to her being
brought up by a stepmother."
My father did not hesitate, and immediately went to Italy, that he might accompany the
little Elizabeth to her future home. I have often heard my mother say, that she was at that time
the most beautiful child she had ever seen, and shewed signs even then of a gentle and
affectionate disposition. These indications, and a desire to bind as closely as possible the ties of
domestic love, determined my mother to consider Elizabeth as my future wife; a design which she
never found reason to repent.
From this time Elizabeth Lavenza became my playfellow, and, as we grew older, my
said to begin with Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto
important tradition of women’s writing (Anne Radcliffe
The “seamy side” of the Enlightenment
the supernatural
cultivation of ambiance and mood
nostalgia for the medieval
plot structured around enigma and mystery
sensational violence
most importantly:
 exploration of excess and taboo
 obsession with otherness
 the darker side of human nature