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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born in London in 1797. She was the daughter of the philosopher, William Godwin, and his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).
In 1814 she met and fell in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley, the English Romantic poet. She eloped with him in July of 1814, taking along her stepsister, Claire Clairmont. But Mary and Shelley could not marry until Shelley's wife, Harriet, died in 1816. Of Mary Shelley's four children by the poet, only Percy Florence survived.
Some of her works include The Last Man (1826) and Lodore (1835). She also edited a book of Percy Shelley's poems in 1839. She lived in the shadow of Shelley's genius for a long time. Shelley died in 1822. Mary Shelley lived until 1851, having enjoyed some literary success.
Although Mary Shelley came from a large family, full of half-sisters and half-brothers, she often felt very alone. Her relations with her father were strained, as is depicted in some of her writings. Frankenstein (1818) has been said to be a product of the horror she felt in losing her children. The trauma, hopes and fears of reanimating a corpse are transferred to the character of Victor, through whom the author re-lives the experience, and in a way, purges herself of it. Whether or not one accepts this particular interpretation of Frankenstein, the novel for which she is famous is a masterful achievement. It is her original contribution to the literary themes and obsessions of the Romantic period.
LITERARY/ HISTORICAL INFORMATION
The idea for Frankenstein developed when Lord Byron, Shelley, Mary and Polidori came together in the summer of 1816 in Switzerland. On a fateful day, they were confined indoors due to rain. Byron came up with the idea that each of them should write a ghost story to pass the time.
Byron's tale was included in a fragment at the end of his poem "Of Mateppa." Shelley based his story on the early experiences of his life, while Polidori's story was flimsy. Mary Shelley alone succeeded in creating a story that could "awaken thrilling horror."
She had learned about various philosophical and scientific doctrines. Galvanism (the re-animating of a corpse) was a popular topic of discussion at that time. In the preface to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley states that the book was conceived in a dream in which she saw a "pale student of unhallowed arts putting together the hideous phantasm of a man." She writes, "the idea so possessed my mind that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the 'realities around'." She realized that what terrified her would also terrify others, and so she formulated her story.
Frankenstein is also in keeping with the spirit of the times. The novel reflects many elements of the Romantic period (1798-1832): the primacy of feeling, the importance of nature, the individual and his quest, the supernatural and the exotic, and solitude.