Mary Godwin Shelley

On this date in 1797, Mary Godwin (later Shelley) was born in London to Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Her mother, the famed champion of reason and author of the seminal feminist treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Women, died 10 days after her birth. Her father, a well-known atheist and radical, had attracted the admiration of atheist and poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Shelley, also an admirer of Mary Wollstonecraft’s writings, met Mary in 1814. At 16 she ran away with the romantic poet, who was unhappily married to another woman and was the father of two children. His first wife’s suicide made it possible for the couple to marry in 1816. Their first two children died and their only surviving son, Percy, was born in 1819 upon their return to England. At age 19, while living in Switzerland, Mary wrote the classic horror story Frankenstein, published in 1818, in a contest between herself, Percy and Lord Byron to write a “ghost story.”

The book was immediately successful and has inspired more than 50 film adaptations. After her husband tragically drowned in 1822 in Italy, Mary returned to England, where she courted respectability on behalf of their son. She worked as a professional writer, penning short stories, travel books, essays and several other novels, including The Last Man (1826) about the gradual demise of the human race during a plague.

She died at age 53 from what her physician suspected was a brain tumor. (D. 1851)

Freedom From Religion Foundation