By Mary Shelley
(Bantam Classics, Mass Market Paperback, 9780553212471, 256pp.)
Publication Date: May 1, 1984
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"I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion." A summer evening's ghost stories, lonely insomnia in a moonlit Alpine's room, and a runaway imagination--fired by philosophical discussions with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley about science, galvanism, and the origins of life--conspired to produce for Marry Shelley this haunting night specter. By morning, it had become the germ of her Romantic masterpiece, Frankenstein.
Written in 1816 when she was only nineteen, Mary Shelley's novel of "The Modern Prometheus" chillingly dramatized the dangerous potential of life begotten upon a laboratory table. A frightening creation myth for our own time, Frankenstein remains one of the greatest horror stories ever written and is an undisputed classic of its kind.
The daughter of Mary Wollestonecraft, the ardent feminist and author of A Vindication on the Right of Women, and William Goodwin, the Radical-anarchist philosopher and author of Lives of the Necromancers, Mary Goodwin was born into a freethinking, revolutionary household in London on August 30,1797. Educated mainly by her intellectual surroundings, she had little formal schooling and at sixteen eloped with the young poet Percy Bysshe Shelly; they eventually married in 1816.
Mary Shelly’s life had many tragic elements. Her mother died giving birth to Mary; her half-sister committed suicide; Harriet Shelly–Percy’s wife dr5owned heself and her unborn child after he ran off with Mary’ William Goodwin disowned Mary and Shelly after the elopement, but–heavily in debt–recanted and came to them for money; Mary’s first child died soon after its birth; and in 1822 Percy Shelly drowned in the Gulf of La Spezia–when Mary was not quite twenty-five.
Mary Shelly recalled that her husband was “forever inciting” her to “obtain literary reputation.” But she did not begin to write seriously until the summer of 1816, when she and Shelly we in Switzerland, neighbor to Lord Byron. One night following a contest to compose ghost stories, Mary conceived her masterpeicve. Frankenstein. After Shelly’s death she continued to write Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), Ladore (1835), and Faulkner (1837), in addition to editing he husband’s works. In 1838 she began to work on his biography, but owing to poor health she completed only a fragment.
Although she received marriage proposals from Trelawney, John Howard Payne, and perhaps Washington Irving, Mary Shelly never remarried. “I want to be Mary Shelly on my tombstone,” she is reported to have said. She died on February 1, 1851, survived by he son, Percy Florence.