Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
About the Author
English Romantic novelist, biographer and editor, best known as the writer of Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). Shelley was 21 when the book was published; she started to write it when she was 18. The story deals with an ambitious young scientist. He creates life but then rejects his creation, a monster.
Mary Shelley was born in London. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died of puerperal fever 10 days after giving birth to her. She was one of the first feminists, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and the novel The Wrongs of Woman, in which she wrote: "We cannot, without depraving our minds, endeavour to please a lover or husband, but in proportion as he pleases us." Mary Shelley's father was the writer and political journalist William Godwin, who became famous with his work An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). Godwin had revolutionary attitudes to most social institutions, including marriage. In feminism he found an "amazonian" element. Among his other books is Things as They Are, or The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794).
In her childhood Mary Shelley was left to educate herself amongst her father's intellectual circle, the critic Hazlitt, the essayist Lamb, the poet Coleridge and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who came into Godwin's circle in 1812. Mary published her first poem at the age of ten. At the age of 16 she ran away to France and Switzerland with Shelley. They married in 1816 after Shelley's first wife had committed suicide by drowning. Their first child, a daughter, died in Venice, Italy, a few years later. In History of Six Weeks Tour (1817) the Shelleys jointly recorded their life. Thereafter they returned to England and Mary gave birth to a son, William.
The story of Frankenstein started on summer in 1816 when Mary joined with Percy Shelley and Claire Clairmont near Geneva Lord Byron. She took a challenge set by Byron and Shelley to write the most frightening ghost story. With her husband's encouragement, she completed the novel within a year. At the Villa Diodati she had been a "silent listener" of her husband and Byron who discussed about galvanism. At Eton College Shelley had become interested in Luigi Calvani's experiments with electric shocks to make dead frogs' muscles twitch. It is possible that his teacher, James Lind had demonstrated the technique to Shelley. In her Introduction to the 1831 edition Mary revealed that she got the story from a dream, in which she 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 a uneasy, half vital motion."
The first edition of book had an unsigned preface by Percy Shelley. Many thought that it is also his novel, disbelieving that only 19-year-old woman could write such horror story. However, when the book was published in 1818, it became a huge success. In 1818 the Shelleys left England for Italy, where they remained until Shelley's death - he drowned in 1822 in the Bay of Spezia near Livorno. In 1819 Mary suffered a nervous breakdown after the death of William who died of malaria at the age of 3 - she had also lost a daughter the previous year. In 1822 she had a dangerous miscarriage and she believed that she would die. Shelley wrote to her friend Maria Gisborne about this loss and her husband's death, concluding the letter: "Well here is my story - the last story I shall have to tell - all that might have been bright in my life is now despoiled - I shall live to improve myself, to take care of my child, & render myself worthy to join him. soon my weary pilgrimage will begin - I rest now - but soon I must leave Italy -". Of their children only one, Percy Florence, survived infancy. In 1823 she returned with her son to England, determined not to-re-marry. She devoted herself to his welfare and education and continued her career as a professional writer. Sir Timothy Shelley, her father-in-law, was not eager to help her and her son Percy financially. Shelley never married but she flirted with the young French writer Prosper Merimee, and hoped to marry Maj. Aubrey Beauclerk.
None of Shelley's works published for over 30 matched the power of her first legendary novel. Her later works include Lodore (1835) and Faulkner (1937), both romantic pot-boilers, and unfinished Mathilde (1819, published 1959), which draws on her relations with Godwin and Shelley. Valperga (1823) is a romance set in the 14th-century, and The Last Man (1826) depicts the end of human civilization, set in the 21st century republican England. Its second part describes the gradual destruction of the human race by plague. The story is narrated by Lionel Verney, the last man of the title, living amidst the ruins of Rome. Feminist critics have paid attention to its fantasy of the total corrosion of patriarchal order.
Shelley gave up writing long fiction when realism started to gain popularity, exemplified in the works of Charles Dickens. She wrote a numerous short stories for popular periodicals, particularly The Keepsaker, produced several volumes of Lives for Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopedia, and the first authoritative edition of Shelley's poems (1839, 4 vols.). Shelley's well-received travelogue Rambles in Germany and Italy appeared in 1844. She also attempted a biography on Shelley but abandoned the work.
The story of Frankenstein's monster has inspired over 50 films. James Whale's version from 1931, starring Boris Karloff, is considered a classic, and became the major source for a number of other adaptations. The monster kills little Maria on the lake and is hunted down and killed. All reviews of the film were not positive: "I regret to report that it is just another movie, so thoroughly mixed with water as to have a horror content of about .0001 percent... The film differs greatly from the book and soon turns into a sort of comic opera with a range of cardboard mountains over which extras in French Revolution costumes dash about with flaming torches." (Creighton Peet in Outlook & Independent, December 9, 1931) Mel Brook's parody Young Frankenstein (1974), starring Gene Wilder in the role of the young Frankenstein, was beautifully photographed - Brooks used many archaic optical devices, including the old 1:85 aspect ratio for height and width of the frame. The film received an Academy Award nomination for its script. Among its highlights is the scene in which Peter Boyle as the monster visits bearded blind man Gene Hackman, and barely manages to survive Hackman's hospitableness. Kenneth's Branagh's film Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) was faithful to the book. The director himself was Frankenstein and Robert De Niro played the monster under a heavy mask.
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