We began this discussion in a previous post. You can click here to read it.
Mary Shelley (Mary Godwin) was born a healthy baby despite fears of her never taking her first breath.
Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was strong woman and a force to be reckoned with. In a time when men were considered “owners” of their wives and children, Wollstonecraft lived a life fighting for the equality of women. What may come as a surprise to some of you is, Wollstonecraft was an author in her own right. She penned the book, A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN.
You may be thinking this is where Mary Shelley learned how to be independent and bold. And your guess would be somewhat right.
Against stifling odds, Mary Shelley was born healthy but ten days later, her mother died from Childbirth Fever. Mary never got to know her mother in the traditional way many children do. She did not grow up alongside of her, feel her touch, or nurtured by this intelligent, radical woman.
In fact, when Mary’s father, William Godwin, who was a also a political philosopher, remarried to Jane Clairmont, her stepmother did not see a reason to educate Mary the way her mother might have.
It is a curious notion if you think about it. Two, well-educated parents and a child left to figure the world out by her own devices. It is almost unfathomable, which makes Mary’s journey all the more inspiring.
While most children were learning to read and write in classrooms or with tutors, or a governess, Mary learned to read and write by tracing the letters on her mother’s headstone. This, no doubt, sounds dark and macabre to some of you. The vision of a little girl sitting on her mother’s grave tracing her name and epitaph could even be considered unhealthy except, if you look closer, you’ll note the words the little girl traced.
“Mary Wollstonecraft … Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”
There, written in stone, was the life lesson her mother would instill in her from the beyond the veil of death. A message so powerful, it influenced young Mary’s entire life.
In Mary’s own words, she described a vision she had when the idea for her novel, FRANKENSTEIN, or a MODERN PROMETHEUS, came to her via the infamous challenge issued by Lord Byron: To write a better ghost story. For days the group entertained themselves by reading scary stories in the villa waiting for storms to pass. Shelley explains how, in the vision, she 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.”
It’s the kind of answer every avid reader wants to hear but … there is no evidence of such a dream.
Let’s rewind a little and understand the world Mary lived in. Her work was considered unladylike. Whispers about how vile and demented of a woman she must be to write such a thing, piled onto her already scandalous lifestyle. A rebel from birth, Mary fought against every convention pressed upon her. Including marriage.
She met her lover, Percy, while he was a student of her father. At 16, though Percy was married at the time, Mary convinces him they should not only be together but to avoid conflict, run away to Switzerland. To add gasoline to the fire, when they ran off, they also took her sister, Claire.
Living a hedonistic lifestyle of a “rockstar” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Mary suffered, a lot. Of her five pregnancies, only one survived. She kept meticulous diaries, and later in her life spoke out about living under the philosophy of “free love” and how unkind it was to women of the era. Knowing there were rumors of Percy’s affair with her sister, Claire, we can infer the lifestyle wasn’t what Mary bargained for.
Broke, heart broken, object of rumor and scandal, the absence of her mother and the loss of her children all played their parts and influenced her most famous tale.
When I was very young, my step-father who was a huge fan of the original monsters, introduced me to Frankenstein when I was around 4 years old. Later, when he became terminally ill and required a kidney transplant, the two of us sat down and talked about how profound the story of Frankenstein was. A doctor who took body parts from cadavers, injected it with a power source, and was able to bring a man back to life.
Science fiction has a way of taking what we dream and turning it into real life. It is by the imagination human kind progresses. We dare to dream. And the brave ones dare to make them reality.
What are some things you took away from the story of FRANKENSTEIN, or a MODERN PROMETHEUS? Was the creation the monster? Or was the man who created it the villain?
Stay tuned for more about Mary Shelley’s life and her works in the next entry. Until then, I’m dying to hear your thoughts.