Mary Shelley, modernity and perseverance

Omaggio di Zoa Studio a Frankenstein di Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley is “fresh” in the mind of the Zoa Studio Team since, on Halloween last year, we had the pleasure of visiting Villa Dei Vescovi, which the writer had visited and where her most important work, Frankenstein, had been staged.

On the occasion of the anniversary of the death of this woman who marked the history of literature, we tell you her story and her merits. Ahead of her time in many respects, Mary Shelley’s work is far from being limited to writing the best-known gothic novel of her time, but it reinvigorates the science fiction genre with metaphorical narratives that criticize the romantic ideals she grew up with. 

Who is Mary Shelley

Daughter of a feminist philosopher and a political journalist and philosopher, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born on August 30, 1797 in London. Her mother died 12 days after her daughter was born due to septicemia.

Her father remarried Mary Jane Clairmont, a housewife with two illegitimate children. Mary grew up with this woman, whom she hated of her, with the latter voluntarily pushing away the children of her husband’s previous marriage.

In 1805, the Godwins founded a children’s publishing house that published many things, including Shakespeare’s stories and works by Godwin himself hidden by the pseudonym Baldwin. This project didn’t go very well.

However, despite financial difficulties, Mary’s father took the time to educate his children in a wide range of subjects and introduced them to the intellectuals of the time. Mary grew up to be a teenager curious about everything, very active, witty and above all gifted with an unfailing perseverance, qualities that she had most likely inherited from her mother, very daring for her time.

At seventeen Mary fell madly in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley, an epic and romantic poet with radical political views. The following year Mary prematurely gave birth to a girl who died shortly after. In the midst of a depression, she is haunted by visions of the child returning from the dead and manages to get out of her situation by having another child with Percy.

Accompanied by their son William, the couple went to Geneva to spend the summer with the poet Lord Byron. Other intellectuals join them and they all spend their time writing, debating and taking boat trips on the lake. This part of Mary Shelley’s life is well told in the movie Mary Shelley, an immortal love, here is the trailer.


This episode, if you remember, was told you in detail some time ago here. Let’s summarize briefly. A summer that Mary defines as rainy, she and some “colleagues” spend most of their time in a villa, Villa Diodati. In the evening, by the fire, the group tells ghost stories and European folk tales.

Lord Byron proposes that each of them write a ghost story in the following days to amuse the other diners. Every morning when others ask her if she managed to write anything, Mary Shelley is forced to say no. One night later, while the others were discussing the very concept of life, Mary had an idea that would change not only her life, but also her literature: “What if a corpse could be reanimated?”

Mary got hooked on her story about her, thinking about it day and night and, following the encouragement of her husband Percy, she turned what would have been a simple tale into a novel that she published in 1818 as Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus.

The basic concept outlines science fiction themes that she will like to revisit later. She already called herself Miss Shelley and, according to her, this summer represented her transition from childhood to adult life. The couple welcomed another daughter into their life, Clara, and pursued an existence that revolved around writing, traveling and reading. During a trip to Italy, Clara died and, a few months later, William also died of malaria in Rome.

Depression and recovery

Mary Shelley got depression after the death of her children and found solace only in literature and writing. Like the first time, she regains confidence in her life with the birth of her fourth child, Percy Florence in November 1819.

She wrote Mathilda, where the narrator tells the semi-autobiographical story of her father from his deathbed, of the di her incestuous love and her suicide.

The couple had been attending the same circle of friends for many months and, not believing in the monogamy of marriage, allowed themselves to associate with some of them, causing some passions and many conflicts. A bit like her mother had done, she was defined as daring and libertine for her time.

Mary miscarried again in 1822 and she lost so much blood that she was close to her death when Percy intervened, narrowly saving her life. However, Percy took little care of her and spent most of his time with one of their friends, Jane Williams.

Edward Williams, the companion of the latter, and Percy, leave following the purchase of a boat that the two men dreamed of. They leave along the west coast of Italy, but several days after they leave Mary receives a letter written by Leigh Hunt (a writer and poet from the same circle of friends), asking about Percy and why he apparently never got to destination. Several days later, the bodies of the two men were found on a beach near Viareggio and they were cremated as soon as possible by Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt who arrived on the spot. Unable to give in to depression, Mary draws on her strength to continue writing and thus provide for the needs of her and those of her son Percy.

The last years of Mary Shelley

Mary Shelly wrote The Last Man, depicting a lost humanity on the way to progress in the year 2073. After a terrible war in the decades to come, a pestilence gradually uproots the human species until there is only one man left, accompanied by his dog. A novel between science fiction, social criticism and apocalyptic despair, which is receiving new attention from critics in recent times.

Mary Shelley is also known for writing Lodore in 1835 and Falkner two years later. These novels talk about heroines who fall prey to tyrannical male figures and find their way into a world they would like to see changed. The following years also allowed Mary to supplement her finances by rediscovering her husband’s poetry and overseeing the upbringing of her younger son.

Once the latter reaches adulthood, he traveled with her to Germany and Italy in the 1840s. In those years she Mary fell ill with increasing frequency. Terrible migraines and temporary paralysis prevented her from reading and writing and she died of a brain tumor on February 1, 1851. Mary Shelley is buried in Bournemouth. To satisfy her wishes, Percy Florence and her wife Jane had the coffins of her parents exhumed and buried with her.

Mary Shelley's grave map

An indelible mark in literature

It was only a year later, on the anniversary of his mother’s death, that Percy Florence opened his mother’s office. He found strands of his brothers’ hair he had never known, a notebook shared with his father Percy Bysshe, and a copy of his poem Adonaïs. On one of the pages she was attached to a piece of silk containing part of her ashes and a piece of her heart. A detail that is not defined as goth.

Of Mary Shelley, however, we are left with her stories of her travels through a legendary literary circle, her writings that have forever marked literature and transformed the science fiction genre and, of course, her life story.

A tragic life that remains the most striking testimony of Mary Shelley’s modernity and perseverance. A Phoenix, who has always known how to rise from the ashes of her numerous difficulties Her novels have become therapeutic and fascinating for her readers who have discovered one of the most brilliant minds of the romantic current.

Her work became essential in literature and influenced the different artistic currents of the following two centuries. But it was mainly thanks to her passionate life that her characters were able to come to life in the imagination of millions of readers.



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