Mary Shelley: The Story Of Frankenstein

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It was a dark and stormy night in the summer of 1816 when… “the story of Frankenstein’s origin began” (Geiger 1). Flashback to almost 19 years before this, on August 30, 1797, Mary Shelley was born (Miller 12). Mary Shelley is most notable for her novel “Frankenstein”, but her life was defined by so much more. Mary Shelley’s life was characterized by heartbreak and misfortune which had a great impact on her literature.

In order to understand Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, her backstory is key. Mary Shelley dealt with severe trauma and heartbreak during her lifetime. Mary Shelley’s life consisted of “heartbreak that no one could have ever foreseen: suicides, drownings and children born and lost.” (Reef 1). The traumatic aspect of Mary Shelley’s life began when she was only 11 days old. Her mother Mary Wollstonecraft passed away due to complications during childbirth after she “developed an infection of the uterus” (Miller 13). At a young age, Mary Shelley connected with her mother. Mary would go to visit her gravesite where she could be heard “speaking aloud to the spirit of her departed mother.” (Miller 9). Mary took great inspiration from her mother and her works that she left behind. Mary Wollstonecraft’s influence can be seen throughout Mary Shelley’s work, “Shelley also showed herself to be her mother’s daughter in the way her work’s structure plays to the reader’s rationality.” (Sturgis 1). Although she was dead before she could get to know her, Mary Wollstonecraft played a major role in her daughter’s life.

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After the loss of her mother, Mary’s father became very protective of her. During a business trip in Ireland Mary’s father wrote “she shall be nobody’s little girl but papa’s”. (Miller 13). In 1814, Godwin’s little girl fell in love with Percy Shelley (Hewitt 6). An important aspect to note about Mary and Percy’s relationship is that Percy is actively married to another woman at the same time. The relationship between Mary and Percy was highly objected by Godwin, so much so that he didn’t speak to either of them (Hewitt 6). After the absence of her father, Mary’s tragic aspect of life continued. Within a span of only 10 years, Mary dealt with the most pain, heartbreak and misfortune ever imagined. It all started when Mary gave birth to her first child who died prematurely in 1815 (Hewitt 6). The following year, in 1816, she gave birth to a second child who died just 3 years later (Hewitt 7). In the same year, Shelley loses her half-sister Fanny to suicide and her husband’s first wife also dies to suicide by drowning (Hewitt 7). Following the birth of her second child, the next year, in 1817, Mary Shelley gave birth to another child who then died in 1818 (Hewitt 7). In 1819, Mary Shelley gives birth to her only surviving son Percy Florence Shelley (Hewitt 7). In 1822, Mary had a miscarriage which almost lead to death and Percy Shelley, her husband dies in an accidental drowning accident (Hewitt 7). Mary Shelley’s personal tragedy greatly influenced “Frankenstein”, which follows Victor Frankenstein and his creature, both tragic figures throughout the novel.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein, a scientist, composes a creature out of human remains. Victor is horrified of his creation and he escapes his creature which then leads to the creature escaping as well. The story continues with the clashing of Victor and his creature leading to tragic endings for them both. Many elements of the tragic story relate back to the life and tragedies of Mary Shelley. In chapter 3 of “Frankenstein”, it is noted that Victor’s Mother “died calmly” (Shelley 40). Mary Shelley relates Victor to herself, both of them losing their mother at a young age and only having their father to care for them. The loss of their mother was the beginning to both of their tragic lives. Victor has many other family members who are killed by his creature. Shelley relates Victor to her personal tragedies in the fact that she had to deal with the loss of multiple family members as well. Shelley and Victor shared similar tragedy.

Mary Shelley was born in London, England and lived in Geneva, Switzerland during her lifetime (Miller 12). Both of these places were highlighted as key settings in “Frankenstein”. Mary Shelley took inspiration from her surroundings and what was current in her life, this being one of many examples. Mary Shelley’s parents were both very influential people of their time. Both being philosophers and writers, they were both well-known and respected similarly to Victor’s family. Victor starts off by highlighting his family’s importance. In Chapter 1 of “Frankenstein”, Victor talks about his family, where he says, “I am by birth a Genevese; and my family is one of the most distinguished of that republic.” (Shelley 27). Another relation between Mary and Victor was the similarity of age when they first started their creations/work, “Mary Shelley was 18 when she conceived the idea for her most famous work.” (Olson 1). Although the novel clearly wasn’t fully based off of her life, key parts of Shelley’s life were sprinkled throughout the pages.

Beginning with the loss of her mother, Mary Shelley was obsessed with creation and death. In the beginning of “Frankenstein”, Victor was obsessed with creation as well but in a different way than Shelley. The most notable creations that Mary made were her literary works. During her lifetime, Mary wrote “six novels after her first Frankenstein, two verse plays, two travel works, several biographies, children’s stories and edited works.” (Karbiener 14). She also “composed numerous essays, poems and reviews and more than two dozen short stories.” (Karbiener 14). Mary was constantly creating works during her lifetime, most of which she didn’t even like, she was quoted saying “What folly is it in me to write trash nobody will read.” (Shelley 14). Frankenstein was a major success read by millions and still relevant two centuries later. Her works and need for creation were most likely linked to her mother’s death and her mother’s writing career. Mary lived her life as a writer like her mother and was influenced by her work, which was most likely a reason why she wrote. She wanted to bring across the same influence her mother had for her and many others. Mary’s obsession with death is also linked to her mother because from a young age she visited her gravesite b. Not only would she visit her mother’s grave, In St Pancras churchyard where her mother was buried, “she often played alone among its neglected graves.” (Reef 3). Marry was surrounded by death her whole life, “Mary continually heard the cries of helpless animals being led to their death at the slaughterhouse nearby.” (Reef 13). Mary’s father also wrote multiple children’s books which included gory details and death which may have influenced Mary too (Reef 13). In “Frankenstein”, ten deaths occur including Victor and his creature. Mary Shelley’s many brushes with the subject of death majorly contributed to her writing of “Frankenstein” and gave life to the horror aspect of her story.

Mary Shelley died on February 1, 1851 at the age of 53 (Miller 117). She was survived by her only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley (Miller 172). Mary Shelley’s life was characterized by heartbreak and misfortune which had a great impact on her literature. Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein” lives on to this day and is one of the most notable and influential novels in history. Although she is mainly noted for Frankenstein, her life is so much more than her writings. Through her writings though, her own story of tragedy and Victor and his creature’s stories of tragedy will live on forever. 


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