Mary Shelley Biographical Essay

Mary Shelley Biographical Essay-61
Mary Jane had two children, Charles and Jane, who later called herself Claire.Her stepmother did not encourage Mary Godwin's intellectual curiosity and did not bring her up according to her mother's principles.The only formal training Mary received came from a music master.

Mary Jane had two children, Charles and Jane, who later called herself Claire.

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Spark has revised her book in the light of the Mary Shelley scholarship in the interval, and brought it out as ''Mary Shelley: A Biography.'' The result is not what we might have expected, considering the drama of Mary Shelley's life and imagination.

So it is understandable that in 1951, the centenary year of Mary Shelley's death and a time when Muriel Spark was preoccupied with 19th-century writers, she chose to write ''Child of Light: A Reassessment of Mary Shelley.'' And that 36 years and 17 novels later - there never having been an American edition of this biography, except a small pirated one - Ms.

We know her as the wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).

MARY SHELLEY (1797-1851) is far from a historical obscurity.

Her daughter from an affair with Gerald Imlay, Fanny, lived with William Godwin and his new-born child.

Before her marriage to poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, despite the fact that she had grown up without ever knowing her birth mother Mary always referred to herself as "Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin." After her marriage, she dropped the "Godwin," but hung on to her mother's name, signing her letters "MWS." William Godwin courted various women looking for a new mother for the two girls until he finally met Mary Jane Vial (better known as Clairmont) and married her on 21 December 1801.

But surely one must take into account the number of deaths in Mary Shelley's life that must have been weighing on her at the time - her mother's, her child's, her half sister's - and the fantasy of resurrection with its attendant psychological complications. Spark intends to highlight is unintentionally shaded by her elliptical technique.

She tries to justify such examples of contradictory behavior as William Godwin's disapproval of his son-in-law and his simultaneous demand that the poet provide him with money for support, or Mary's own quest for intellectual freedom and her increased craving, after her husband's death, ''more and more for bourgeois respectability.'' ''All people contain within them the elements of conflict,'' Ms. ''In some, however, the battle wages more vigorously, more unequally and longer than in others, and such people eventually reveal a salient inconsistency to the world; Mary Shelley was one of these.'' Yet while her reasoning is sound enough - no members of the Godwin-Wollstonecraft family were wont to admit their confusion of 18th-century reason with 19th-century emotion -her truncated account of her subjects' actual behavior makes them appear a bit like hypocrites in a comedy of manners.

And she wrote much more than ''Frankenstein.'' She wrote not only six additional novels, among them the futuristic ''Last Man'' (1826) and ''The Fortunes of Percy Warbeck'' (1830), a historical romance, both of which are once again in print; she also wrote stories, travel essays, journals, biographical essays for an encyclopedia, and the Preface and Notes to ''The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley'' (1839), in which she pioneered the history of biographical-literary criticism.

We know her as the daughter of William Godwin (1756-1836), the English political philosopher and novelist, and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), the feminist who wrote ''Vindication of the Rights of Women.'' We know her best of all as the author of ''Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus,'' her novel that was inspired in 1816 by Lord Byron's announcement one rainy day to a group of friends in Geneva, ''We will each write a ghost story.'' But Mary Shelley was considerably more than a wife, daughter and one-shot author. She was a feminist in her own right - if not in word and slogan, then in the independence of her intellectual life and in her decision to support herself as a writer.


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