Thought of the Day 8.30.12 Mary Woolstonecraft Shelley


“We are tomorrow’s past.”

–Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

English: Cropped portrait of Mary Shelley

English: Cropped portrait of Mary Shelley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born on  this day in London, England in 1797. This is the 215th anniversary of her birth.

She was born into a family of  “intellectual rebels.” Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft…

“the celebrated author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), died of puerperal fever, leaving Godwin, [her father, William Godwin] the author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), to care for Mary and her three-year-old half-sister, Fanny Imlay.”[Eleanor Ty, Wilfrid Laurier University]

English: William Godwin, oil on canvas, 1802, ...

English: William Godwin, oil on canvas, 1802, 29 1/2 in. x 24 1/2 in. (749 mm x 622 mm), “Godwin liked Northcote’s portrait, describing it as ‘The principal memorandum of my corporal existence that will remain after my death.’ With the light hitting the philosopher’s temples, Northcote symbolised Godwin’s belief in progress based on reason.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For four years Godwin raised “Pretty Little Mary” and her half-sister Fanny with the help of a governess. Mary thrived under her father’s affectionate care and grew into a “precocious, sensitive and spirited” little girl. But in 1801 he  married  Mary Jane Clairmont.  Little Mary did not get on well with her new “mother.” She grew up…

with a cruel step mother and emotionally distant father; she consoled herself at her mother’s graveside and spent periods of time in Scotland with friends of the family. [the Literary Network]

She was close to her half-sister Fanny and especially her step-sister Claire. But, while Claire was sent away to a boarding school to learn, Mary was left a home to learn what she could from the family library. Fortunately the library was well stocked, and her Father hosted a stream of literary visitors who sparked the girls’ imaginations. (Claire and Mary snuck into one such meeting and hid under a sofa so they could listen to Coleridge recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” [the Literary Network has a more detailed account of Mary’s early life and the strife between the girl and Mrs. Godwin.]

Percy Bysshe Shelley imbibed his radical philo...

Percy Bysshe Shelley imbibed his radical philosophy from William Godwin’s Political Justice. (Amelia Curran, 1819) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At  16, after a return from a very happy holiday with her friends the Baxters in Scotland,  she met Percy Bysshe Shelly. Percy was 5 years her senior and established writer and rich. He came to the Godwin’s to talk to her father about politics and his philosophy.  Mary and Percy fell in love with each other. Unfortunately Percy was already married (unhappily) to Harriet  Westbrook. Regardless of his marital status Mary and Percy ran off to Europe with Claire in tow. Her father, who believed in free love for other people, was against it for his daughter, he refused to talk to Mary until she and Percy married several years later.

Godwin-Shelley family tree

Godwin-Shelley family tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The eight years Mary and Percy Shelley spent together were indeed characterized by romance and melodrama. During this period Mary and Percy, both extremely idealistic, lived on love–because of extended negotiations over the disposition of the estate of Percy’s grandfather–without money, constantly moving from one placed to another. Mary gave birth to four children, only one of whom survived to adulthood… [Eleanor Ty, Wilfrid Laurier University]

While at Lake Geneva they met Lord Byron. Byron and Claire became lovers and had a child of their own, Allegra.  Mary started work on Frankenstein while they were in Switzerland. It was inspired after a night of telling ghost stories.

Steel engraving (993 x 71mm) for frontispiece ...

Steel engraving (993 x 71mm) for frontispiece to the revised edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831. The novel was first published in 1818. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As December 1816 loomed Harriet Westbrook Shelly committed suicide by walking into the Serpentine River near her home in Hyde Park. Unlike his relationship with Harriet, Percy found Mary an intellectual and romantic partner. With in the month Mary and Percy were married in London. They continued to travel, often with Byron, Claire and Allegra.

In 1822 Mary had a serious miscarriage and almost died. Later that year Percy was out sailing on the schooner “Don Juan’ when the boat sank in a sudden storm. Mary, devastated, returned to England with her only surviving son, Percy Florence.

The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Loui...

The Cremation of Percy Bysshe Shelley, by Louis Édouard Fournier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She died in 1851 at the age of 54.  Romantic legend has it that when her son and daughter-in-law opened her box desk they found locks of hair from her long dead children and a silk envelope containing the ashes of Percy’s “heart”.

Books by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly include:

History of Six Weeks’ Tour though a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland

Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus

Mathilda

Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca

The Last Man

the Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck

Ladore

Falkner

Rambles in Germany and Italy

and collections of poems of Percy Bysshe Shelly

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About ritalovestowrite

Freelance writer, graphic designer, musician, foodie and Jane Austen enthusiast in Northern Baltimore County, Maryland. As a writer I enjoy both fiction and non fiction (food, travel and local interest stories.) As an advocate for the ARTS, one of my biggest passions is helping young people find a voice in all the performing arts. To that end it has been my honor to give one-on-one lessons to elementary, middle and high school students in graphic design and music. And as JANE-O I currently serve as the regional coordinator for JASNA Maryland and am working on a Regency/Federal cooking project. View all posts by ritalovestowrite

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