People Hated Mary Shelley So Much You’d Think She Was The Horrible Monster
Frankenstein was written by a pregnant teenage runaway
Mary Shelley lost her virginity on her mother’s grave.
People are so shocked by that, there’s a Snopes entry about it. She was sixteen. He was 24. A married man with a three year old child and a pregnant wife at home.
Everyone knows the story of Frankenstein, but few know the story of the pregnant teenage runaway who wrote it.
She published it anonymously, afraid putting her name on the book would kill it before it had a chance to live.
Because everyone thought she was a monster.
Even her family.
She learned hate at age four...
When Mary was four, her papa married the lady next door, who had two kids of her own.
Mary’s stepmother hated her. Pulled her hair, slapped her and yelled at her.
Can’t bear to look at that child. Looks like her mother. That’s what her stepmother shrieked at her father.
When Mary was six, her step-mama had a baby. A boy, named after her papa. Then her daddy had even less time for her.
She started spending her days at the cemetery.
Your mama loved you very much…
Before the stepmother, Mary’s daddy used to take her to the cemetery. It was close to home, so they’d walk there together, holding hands.
This is your mama, her papa would say. She loved you very, very much.
Taught her to print her name by tracing tiny fingers over the letters on her mother’s headstone.
So she ran to her mommy. It was where she felt loved.
For lack of soap and water, a tragedy…
The night Mary was born, the delivery went fine. But the placenta didn’t detach so the doctor had to remove it by hand. Tore it out in pieces, they said. Ten days later, her mama was dead.
The doctor didn’t wash his hands.
For lack of soap and water, a tragedy.
Fifty years later, a doctor in Vienna would discover that handwashing reduces infection. But when Mary was born, they didn’t know.
Her mother was famed writer Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist who’d published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.
Her talented, famous mama died because of her, they said.
It haunted her.
“Solitude was my only consolation — deep, dark, deathlike solitude.” ―Mary Shelley
Will you take my daughter?
When Mary was 14, her daddy got a letter from a fan. It said Mr. Godwin, we’ve read all your books. We are your biggest fans. If there is anything we can do in your service, please let us know.
Her father wrote back and asked if his daughter could stay with them.
That’s how Mary found herself sailing to Scotland alone at 14. Her daddy wouldn’t even look at her when he put her on the ship.
The first day, her purse was stolen. The coins papa gave her were gone. She slunk to her tiny dark cabin in the belly of the ship and cried.
She felt truly alone in the world.
“If you don’t love me back, I will kill myself.”
Two years later, Mary’s father told her to come home.
That’s when she fell in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a handsome young poet from a wealthy family. Her papa was tutoring him.
Percy would sit with her. Read romantic poetry to her. One day he professed his love. Said he didn’t love his wife. He loved her. Only her.
And if she didn’t love him back, he’d kill himself.
That’s what he said.
So Mary loved him back. On her mother’s grave.
GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!!
Mary’s papa was William Godwin, the first political anarchist. He didn’t believe in marriage. Said women were “brave” to work and have children outside of matrimony.
That didn’t apply to his daughter.
When Mary said she loved Percy, he disowned her. Said get out and don’t come back until she’s respectably married. Homewrecker. Disrespectful. Disgusting. Selfish.
So Mary and Percy decided to run away.
Her stepsister Claire begged to go along. Get me out of this miserable house, she begged. So Percy, Mary and Claire fled to France.
Nine months after that day in the cemetery, Mary delivered a little girl. Twelve days later, she woke up to find her baby cold and dead.
While she was grieving, she discovered Percy was sleeping with Claire. Mary was too gloomy and depressing. That’s what they told her.
“If pain can purify the heart, mine will be pure.”
— Mary Shelley
Summer of horror…
The summer of 1816, they were in a castle in Switzerland.
They’d met Lord Byron in their travels. Percy and Byron became close friends instantly. Come to Switzerland, he said. So they did.
Mary was 18 and nursing her second child. They’d made up and Claire was having an affair with Lord Byron.
It was the year of no summer. The worst volcano eruption in history had filled the skies with ash. Black skies and candlelight at noon.
Byron’s physician, John Polidori was there, too. Stuck inside, they’d sit and talk. Polidori talked about experiments to ‘reanimate’ dead tissue using electricity. Like the defibrillators we have today.
Mary would listen silently and then dream of her baby coming back to life. They were just girls, her and Claire. 18 and 17.
One day, Lord Byron suggested everyone write a horror story to share.
Mary couldn’t think of a story at first. Then she had a horrible nightmare of a scientist creating a man from dead bodies and ‘reanimating’ him.
She woke up and had her story.
“Dreamed that my little baby came to life again…” — from the diary of Mary Shelley
Then Percy’s wife killed herself…
A few months after the Switzerland trip, they got word that Percy’s wife was dead. Left a suicide note and walked into the river.
Worse, she was heavily pregnant. Some say it was Percy’s. From his last “visitation” with his kids. But no one really knows.
Percy told Mary they have to get married. He didn’t believe in marriage, he believed in free love. But he wanted custody of his kids and thought it would help. It backfired.
It should have been a given. Children were property of their father. But in an unprecedented decision, the court said no. Because of Mary.
Scandalous woman. Homewrecker. Ran away with a married man. Married him not a month after his wife died. Not a suitable mother.
Harriet’s parents got the kids. Because of Mary.
Frankenstein was finally published when Mary was almost 21. They lauded the book as revolutionary. A new genre and the first mad scientist.
And no one knew it was hers.
They published it without her name. Because of her reputation.
Four years later, Percy died in a boating accident right before the book went to reprint. This time, Mary insisted her name be on the cover.
People complained. Said no way “she” wrote that book. It was probably Percy’s and she stole it since he was dead. Couldn’t speak for himself.
It got so bad Lord Byron finally issued a statement saying it was her book, and he was there when she wrote it.
When Mary Shelley died at age 53 of a brain tumor, she’d written nine novels, two travel books, 23 short stories and three children's books.
But Frankenstein was her best seller, and some refused to believe she wrote it. Until the day she died, they accused her of stealing it from her dead husband.
Because any woman who would steal a man from his wife and child, well — that kind of woman would steal anything.
I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. ―Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
References and further reading
— The strange and twisted life of Frankenstein
— Biography of Mary Shelley, Author of ‘Frankenstein’
— ‘Frankenstein’ Was Born During a Ghastly Vacation
— Death of the First Mrs. Shelley
— Did Mary Shelley Lose Her Virginity On Her Mother’s Grave?
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and the Villa Diodati