The childhood of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) was rather like a dark fairy-tale. Her mother died giving birth to her and she was brought up by a remote father and a step-mother who hated her. Her step-sister was a depressive who later committed suicide and Mary had little in common with her step-brother or her half-brother. As a young girl, she escaped into books and would often read by the side of her mother's tomb.
In 1813 Mary met Percy Bysshe Shelley, who would later be a genius of English poetry. He was only twenty-one at the time, but was already unhappily married. The two were attracted to each other and eloped, despite Mary's age and his marital status. Her father disowned her, but she and Shelley were still married in 1816. They settled in Italy, but tragedy seemed to follow them. Only one of their four children lived very long and then, in 1822, when he was just thirty, Shelley drowned. Mary lived for another thirty years but she lost the promise that she had shown in the company of her brilliant husband and his friends, among whom was the poet Lord Byron. The single book that we remember her for was written during her happy time in Italy.
It was Byron who suggested in 1817 that they each write a horror story. The result in Mary's case was Frankenstein. As well as being creepier than many other books in the genre, Frankenstein has a far better story line and is, in the end, both moving and tragic. Amazingly, a young girl of twenty gave us the book whose name has become synonymous with horror.
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