Mary Shelley - The Mind Behind "Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus" - Author Profile

04 September 2023

Early Life

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born on August 30, 1797, in London, England, into a household of intellectual prominence. Her father, William Godwin, was a renowned political philosopher, while her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a pioneering feminist and author.

Tragically, her mother died of puerperal fever just eleven days after giving birth to her. This left a young Mary to be raised by her father, who, despite his grief, ensured that she had access to education, something not very common for women at the time. Her stepmother, whom her father married later, was not as intellectually inclined, leading to a strained relationship between her and Mary.

mary shelly biography

Intellectual Upbringing

Mary's upbringing was anything but ordinary. Her father's home was a hub for intellectual discussions, often hosting luminaries like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth. Mary was not just a passive observer; she was encouraged to engage in these discussions and had access to her father's extensive library.

This early exposure to literature and philosophy would shape her worldview and creative imagination. It also instilled in her a sense of restlessness and a desire for emotional and intellectual companionship, which she would later find in Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Scandal and Exile

Mary's relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley was fraught with scandal from its inception. Percy, already married to Harriet Westbrook, was immediately captivated by Mary's intellect and beauty. Their affair led to societal ostracization, exacerbated by the fact that Mary was pregnant.

In July 1814, the couple, along with Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, eloped to Europe. They traveled through France and Switzerland, often on foot, facing harsh weather and financial difficulties. Despite these hardships, the journey was intellectually stimulating, filled with discussions on science, politics, and literature, all of which would later influence Mary's writing.

The Birth of "Frankenstein"

The summer of 1816 is famously known as the "Year Without a Summer," due to the volcanic eruptions that led to global climate abnormalities. Mary, Percy, and their friend Lord Byron were staying at the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Confined indoors by incessant rain, Byron proposed a challenge to each guest to write a ghost story. Mary struggled initially but eventually conceived the idea for "Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus" after a vivid dream.

The novel was groundbreaking not just for its narrative structure but also for its deep ethical explorations. Dr. Victor Frankenstein's hubristic act of creating life without considering the moral and social implications resonates with contemporary debates about scientific ethics, such as genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.

Literary and Personal Struggles

After the publication of "Frankenstein" in 1818, Mary faced a series of personal tragedies. Percy drowned in a boating accident in 1822, leaving her a widow at the age of 24. She also lost three of her four children to various illnesses. Despite these overwhelming losses, Mary continued to write.

She authored several other works, including "The Last Man" (1826), a dystopian novel that also falls under the umbrella of speculative fiction. In this novel, she explores a future world devastated by a plague, drawing parallels with the Romantic disillusionment of her own time.


Mary Shelley passed away on February 1, 1851, but her legacy is far from forgotten. "Frankenstein" has been adapted into numerous forms of media, from stage plays to blockbuster films. For instance, in the 1931 film adaptation, the creature, portrayed by Boris Karloff, is not a monstrous figure but a tragic one, echoing Mary's original intent.

This interpretation has influenced subsequent adaptations and discussions, making "Frankenstein" a seminal text in courses on literature, ethics, and science. The novel's themes of ethical responsibility and the potential dangers of unchecked scientific ambition continue to be relevant, as seen in modern debates about bioethics and technology.


Mary Shelley was a complex individual whose life was marked by both intellectual brilliance and personal tragedy. Her work, particularly "Frankenstein," serves as a critical lens through which society continues to explore fundamental ethical and philosophical questions. Her influence extends beyond literature into the realms of ethics and science, making her not just a significant figure in literary history but also in the broader intellectual landscape.

The Most Popular Works of Mary Shelley

  • "Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus" (1818). This seminal work explores the ethical implications of scientific discovery and human creation. Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates a sentient being from reanimated body parts but abandons it, leading to tragic consequences. The novel delves into themes of responsibility, isolation, and the moral limits of scientific exploration.
  • "The Last Man" (1826). Set in the late 21st century, this apocalyptic novel is one of the earliest works of dystopian fiction. It explores the collapse of civilization due to a devastating plague and examines themes of loss, despair, and the fragility of human society.
  • "Mathilda" (Written in 1819, Published in 1959). This novella deals with the taboo subject of incestuous desire between a father and daughter. It delves into themes of forbidden love, guilt, and isolation. The novella was considered too controversial for its time and was published posthumously.
  • "Valperga: or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca" (1823). This historical novel is set in 14th-century Italy and focuses on Castruccio Castracani, a real-life tyrant of Lucca. The story explores themes of power, ambition, and the moral complexities of leadership.
  • "Lodore" (1835). The novel follows the life of Lady Lodore and her daughter Ethel, exploring the societal constraints placed on women in the 19th century. It delves into themes of marriage, inheritance, and female independence.
  • "Falkner" (1837). This novel explores the complex relationship between Elizabeth Raby and her guardian, Mr. Falkner, who is tormented by a dark secret from his past. Themes of guilt, redemption, and the complexities of human emotion are central to the story.
  • "The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck" (1830). This historical novel is based on the life of Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the English throne during the reign of Henry VII. It explores themes of identity, political intrigue, and the consequences of ambition.
  • "Proserpine & Midas" (Written in the 1820s, Published in 1922). These are two dramatic works based on Ovid's "Metamorphoses." "Proserpine" explores the myth of Proserpine's abduction by Hades, while "Midas" delves into the story of King Midas and his golden touch. Both works examine the consequences of desire and the complexities of human emotion.
  • "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects" (1792). Though not a work of fiction, this seminal text by Mary's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, had a profound influence on her. It is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy and argues for women's education and equality.

  • While Mary Shelley is most famous for "Frankenstein," her other works also offer rich explorations of complex themes, ranging from the ethical implications of scientific discovery to the intricacies of human emotion and societal norms.


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My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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