Mary Shel­ley

The mother of Franken­stein and sci­ence fic­tion


The daugh­ter of fem­i­nist icon

Mary Woll­stonecraft and rad­i­cal thinker Wil­liam God­win, Mary Shel­ley was des­tined for big things. Her stun­ning de­but Franken­stein has en­thralled for 200 years, and its ori­gin – from a ghost story con­test or­gan­ised by Lord By­ron in Geneva dur­ing 1816, ‘the year with­out a sum­mer’ – has be­come leg­endary. In a “wak­ing dream”, Shel­ley, then 18, saw “with shut eyes, but acute men­tal vi­sion” the “pale stu­dent of the un­hal­lowed arts kneel­ing be­side the thing he had put to­gether”. Her vi­sion re­sulted in the Ro­man­tic era’s most recog­nis­able work, which is of­ten cred­ited with es­tab­lish­ing the sci­ence fic­tion genre in Eng­land’s lit­er­a­ture. Shel­ley utilised Gothic de­vices to ex­am­ine the cor­rupt na­ture of power, and was among the Gothic writ­ers of her gen­er­a­tion to fea­ture ‘the dou­ble’, which reached its height with Robert Louis Steven­son’s

The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. Upon Franken­stein’s pub­li­ca­tion, crit­ics were of the im­pres­sion it was writ­ten by a man – Sir Wal­ter Scott the­o­rised that Mary’s hus­band Percy Bysshe Shel­ley was the thinker be­hind the pen – and when the novel’s true au­thor was re­vealed, crit­ics mostly ig­nored its pol­i­tics, which ex­am­ined the so­cial, sci­en­tific and eco­nomic prob­lems of Mary’s time.

“God, in pity, made man beau­ti­ful and al­lur­ing, af­ter his own im­age; but my form is a filthy type of yours…” Franken­stein

An 1831 il­lus­tra­tion of Franken­stein’s Crea­ture

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