Section Two: Mary Shelley’s Family and Friends
Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in 1797, the child of two preeminent thinkers and writers. Her mother Mary Wollstonecraft died just ten days after giving birth, but she left behind a literary feminist legacy that would later prove influential for her daughter. Wollstonecraft’s most famous books are A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), and A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). William Godwin, Mary Shelley’s father, is largely considered the father of anarchist thought. He published the radical volume An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice in 1793. The widowed Godwin eventually married again to Mary Jane Clairmont. The couple ran a small publishing house and knew many authors and thinkers. The famous poet Percy Bysshe (P. B.) Shelley was an admirer of William Godwin; and through his visits to the Godwin household he and Mary Shelley fell in love. They eloped, bringing her stepsister Claire Clairmont along for the ride. Their circle of young writers and travelers expanded to include the infamous Lord Byron, who challenged his friends to a ghost story writing contest that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein.
Explore these concepts and more in our interactive PDF on Section Two.
LEFT: John Keenan (active 1791–1815) after John Opie (1761–1807), Mary Wollstonecraft, 1804, oil on canvas. The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations; CENTER: Richard Rothwell (1800–1868), Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, painted 1831, exhibited 1840, oil on canvas. © National Portrait Gallery, London; RIGHT: George Dawe (1781–1829) after James Northcote (1746–1831), William Godwin, 1802, mezzotint. The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.