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Biography of Mary Shelley

Portrait of Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley was a nineteenth century author as well as wife of the poet Percy Shelley and the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft.

When and Where was she Born?

30th August 1797, 29 The Polygon, Somers Town, London, England.

Family Background:

Mary Shelley was the daughter of the philosopher William Godwin and the women’s reformer Mary Wollstonecraft. Her mother died after complications with her birth on 10th September 1797.

Education:

Local day school’s in London and Miss Pertiman’s boarding School, Ramsgate.

Timeline of Mary Shelley:

1799: Samuel Taylor Coleridge comes to stay with her father and she hears a recital of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for the first time.

1801: Her father remarries to Mrs Mary Jane Vial (also known as Clairmont) who already has two children, Charles and Jane (later known as Claire).

1803: Anthony Carlisle visits her father and recounts experiments which had been done to the bodies of executed prisoners at Newgate. Electricity had been passed through the corpses to make them move. Also present were Humphry Davy, Charles Lamb and S.T. Coleridge.

1805: William Godwin and his wife open M. J. Godwin & Co. Juvenile Library.

1806: She hides under the sofa to listen to Coleridge reciting “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

1807: Mary leaves the Polygon (and its close proximity to her mother’s grave) for 4 Skinner Street to her father’s new bookshop. The house is near the abattoirs for Fleet Street market as well as Newgate Prison.

1811: She is sent to Ramsgate for the good of her her health.

1812: Her father takes her to a Coleridge recital where she sees Lord Byron in the audience. She is sent to live with William Baxter, a friend of her father’s, at Broughty Ferry near Dundee in Scotland again for her health. in November Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Harriet dine at Godwin’s and Mary possibly meets him for the first time.

1813: Mary and Christy Baxter (daughter) return to the Baxter’s home in Scotland.

1814: She definitely meets Percy Bysshe Shelley on 5th May at Skinner Street. She makes love to Shelley in the graveyard at St. Pancras on 27th June. Mary leaves for France with Shelley and Claire Clairemont on 28th July. Mary’s family disown her for the next two years. They all travel to Paris and then on to Basle and Lucerne in Switzerland, eventually returning to England with no money left in November. They take a series of lodgings at 5 Church terrace, St. Pancras, London.On 14th November Shelley introduces Mary to his Oxford friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg. on 30th November Harriet gives birth to her second child called Charles.

1815: In January Hogg declares his love for Mary with encouragement from Shelley. on the 10th January Mary and Shelley move to 4 Hans Place. Mary Shelley’s first child Clara is born prematurely on 22nd February but dies on 6th March. The family move to 13 Arabella Road, Pimlico on the 2nd March. They spend the summer in Torquay then Windsor near the Great Park. Claire Clairemont goes to stay in the cottage in Lynmouth, Devon where Shelley and Harriet had stayed in 1812.

Villa Diodati
Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva
where Byron, Shelley and Mary Shelley entertained each other 
with horror stories and Frankenstein was “born” (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1816: Birth of Mary’s second child, christened William Godwin Shelley on 24th January. Claire meets Byron in April and becomes his mistress. On 3rd of May Mary, a pregnant Claire and Shelley all decide to go to Switzerland to pursue Byron. They arrive in Geneva on 13th of May and lodge at the Hotel de Sécheron. They then move on to the Maison Chapuis near Coligny. Shelley meets Byron and his physician John Polidori on 27th May who probably falls in love later with Mary. Byron is now lodging separately at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva where the others make frequent visits. On 15th June Byron suggests a short horror story competition to pass the time away during a storm. Mary realises the vision of Frankenstein for the first time. Between the 21st and 27th July, Mary, Shelley and Claire visit Chamounix which gives Mary ideas for “Frankenstein”. Mary writes out the first draft of “Frankenstein” on 26th August, although she did not fully complete the first draft until 16th September. They return to England on 29th August arriving in Portsmouth on 8th September and stay at Bath at 5 Abbey Churchyard next to the Pump Rooms however Shelley moves on to London. Claire is now expecting Byron’s baby. Mary’s stepsister Fanny commits suicide at the Mackworth Arms, Swansea on 9th October. Shelley’s wife Harriet kills herself in the serpentine in London and her body is found on the 10th December and is found to have been pregnant. Mary marries Percy Bysshe Shelley on the 30th December at St. Mildred’s Church, Bread Street, London. Her father William Godwin and his wife attend.

Hotel D'Angleterre
Hotel D’Angleterre in Geneva on the lake shore where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1817: Shelley seeks custody of his children Charles and Ianthe but fails. Claire gives birth to a child called Alba on 13th January but later changes the name to Allegra on Byron’s request. Mary and Shelley move to Albion House, Marlowe, Buckinghamshire. On 14th May Mary finishes “Frankenstein”. Mary gives birth to her third child Clara Everina on 2nd September.

1818: “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus” is published for the first time on 1st January. In February the couple move to 119 Russell Street, London. On 11th March the Shelleys, Claire Clairemont , Allegra, and two servants leave for Dover bound for Italy. They stay in Lyon. between 21-25 March. On 7th May they stay in Pisa and then move on to the Hotel di Malta in Leghorn. Mary meets Maria Gisbourne for the first time in Pisa. They then travel to Italy and stay in Milan for three weeks in April. On 14th May Mary writes to Walter Scott thanking him for his kind review of “Frankenstein” and informing him that it is she who was the author not Percy. On 17th August Percy and Claire travel to Venice hoping to persuade Byron to relinquish Allegra but he refuses however he allows them to see the child at his villa in Este. Her daughter Clara dies in Venice on the 24th September of dysentery. In November they travel to Ferrara, Bologna, and Rome and finally to Naples. On 28th December an infant, registered as “Elena Adelaide” is born in Naples. Shelley and “Marina Padurin” are listed as the parents although the identity of this child is still a mystery. The Shelleys leave Naples the next day. 

1819: On 5th of March the Shelleys and Claire travel to Rome. On 7th June William Shelley dies from malaria and is buried in the Protestant Cemetery. The Shelleys leave Rome on 10 June and move to Leghorn. Her fourth child, Percy Florence is born in Florence on 12th November.

1820: The Shelleys move to Pisa in January. Mary begins the novel “Castruccio, Prince of Lucca” which her father William Godwin will later change to “Valperga“.

1821: The Shelleys meet Edward and Jane Williams, a common law couple, through a mutual friend. Mary and Shelley visit Byron at Ravenna. Byron visits them at Pisa.

1822: Trelawny arrives in Pisa. Death of Allegra on 20th April. On the 16th June Mary miscarries and almost dies of a haemorrhage.. Percy Shelley and Edward Williams sail to Leghorn in Shelley’s boat the “Don Juan” to meet Leigh-Hunt. Mary Shelley sees Byron. Percy Shelley and Williams are both drowned on the return trip in the Gulf of Spezia. Their bodies are found ten days later. William’s body is cremated on 13th August and Percy’s a day later on the beach. In September Jane Williams returns to London and Claire goes to Florence and thence on to Vienna. Mary begins transcribing son of Lord Byron’s “Don Juan” to earn her keep and also collects together Percy’s poems.

1823: Percy’s ashes are interred in the Protestant cemetery in Rome on 21st January. In February Sir Timothy Shelley says he will only support Percy Florence if Mary gives up custody of him. Mary and Percy Florence arrive back in England on 25th August and takes lodgings in Brunswick Square, London. A dramatisation by Richard Brinsley Peake of her book called the “Fate of Frankenstein” is performed at the Lyceum Theatre and English Opera House, London. She is rejected by Sir Timothy Shelley, who forbids her to publish any of Shelley’s works to which she may hold copyright and refuses to give her any financial assistance. She is also rejected by London Society in general. She lives in a series of lodgings in North Holborn and Kentish Town, London. In November Sir Timothy relents and gives Percy Florence £100 per year.

1824: In February Mary begins writing her novel “The Last Man“. At Coram’s Fields she begins transcribing Shelley’s manuscripts and hopes to get them published. In June 300 copies of “Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley” are produced but Sir Timothy bans their sale two months later. Sir Timothy threatens to stop Percy Florence’s allowance if she publishes any more in his lifetime. Mary and Percy Florence move to 5 Bartholomew Place, Kentish Town to be near Jane Williams. She visits the home of Edward Knatchbull on 9th July where the remains of Byron are being held three days prior to its funeral procession to Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire.

1825: In June Mary refuses a proposal of marriage from John Howard Payne and American actor and playwright.

1826: The novel “The Last Man” is published in January in three volumes. Mary assists Thomas Moore with his projected life of Byron. In September Charles Bysshe Shelley, the son of Percy and Harriet from his first marriage, dies, which makes Percy Florence the heir to the baronetcy.

1827: Sir Timothy increases Percy Florence’s allowance to £250. Mary and Percy Florence move to Arundel in July but return to London in October.

1828: In March Percy Florence begins his schooling at Edward Slater’s Gentlemen’s Academy, Church Street in Kensington. Mary contracts smallpox on a visit to Paris to see the Douglases in April. Claire Claremont comes to live with Mary in London in December un til April 1829.

1829: Mary Shelley lodges at 33 Somerset street, London and begins talking to a wide group of literary acquaintances. Sir Timothy increases Percy Florence’s allowance to £300 per year.

1830:The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, A Romance” is published in three volumes in May.

1832: Percy Florence goes to Harrow school.

1833: She moves to Harrow village to be near her son Percy whilst he is at school. begins writing “Lodore” but breaks off to start “The Lives of the Italians” which was to take five years to research and write. She held a particular dislike for working at the King’s Library of the British Museum.

1834: Edward Moxon proposes an edition of Percy Shelley’s works. She replies she will publish them when family reasons permit.

1835: “Lodore” is published in three volumes and is attributed to the author of Frankenstein.

1836: Mary moves back to London. She removes Percy Florence from Harrow and engages a private tutor to save money. Her father William Godwin dies on 7th April. She begins the task of writing Godwin’s life and editing his papers for which Henry Colburn has offered her 350 Guineas. Mrs Godwin also receives money from the Royal Literary Fund and the Royal Bounty Fund after Mary’s intervention.

1837: “Falkner”, a novel is published in three volumes. In October Percy Florence goes up to Trinity College, Cambridge. Sir Timothy finally relents to the publication of Shelley’s poems provided no biographical information is included.

1839: She prepares texts and biographical notes for Edward Moxon’s edition of Shelley’s work for which she is paid £500 pounds. The strain of this work makes her ill. This enables her to take out a lease on a house in Putney. She sits for her portrait to Richard Rothwell which was to be exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition the following year.

1840: Lodges in Richmond before embarking on a tour of Switzerland and Italy with her son Percy and his friend Knox. First signs in Italy of menigioma, the disease which was later to kill her.

1841: Percy Florence graduates from Cambridge and Sir Timothy increases his allowance to £400. In June Mary Jane Godwin, her stepmother dies.

1842: Mary and Percy Florence tour the continent and meet Claire Claremont in Paris.

1843: Mary spends a month in Paris with stepsister Claire. Lodges in Putney on her return home to England.

1844: Sir Timothy Shelley dies leaving Field Place to Percy and Mary. The property was in a terrible state of repair and its costs as well as her husband’s debts left her in despair.

1845: She buys 24 Chester Square, Belgravia, London. In October George “Byron” claims to be the poet’s son and offers to sell a group of letters written by her and Percy.

1846: George tries to publish letters written by Percy and Harriet Shelley but Mary threatens to take out an injunction to stop it.

1847:  She suffers a prolonged bout of illness in January.

1848: Her son Percy marries Jane St. John on 22nd June, the widow of Charles Robert St. John the younger son of Lord Bolingbroke. The three move back to Field Place and use Jane’s money to restore it. Both women suffer from bad health due to the dampness of the house.

1849: Jane and Percy purchase Boscombe Lodge near Bournemouth hoping to restore Mary’s health.

1850: Mary Shelley’s health worsens and she is taken back to Chester Square in London.

1851: Mary suffers a series of fits and lapses into a coma on 23rd January at her home in Chester Square. After her death Percy arranged for the bodies of her father Godwin and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft to be exhumed and reburied alongside Mary in Bournemouth. A small museum and shrine was created at the Boscombe house to Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

When and Where did she Die?

1st February 1851, Chester Square, London, England of brain cancer.

Age at Death:

53.

Written Works:

1817: “History of a Six Weeks Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland: With Letters Descriptive of a Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni” (with Shelley).
1818: “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”.
1819: “Mathilda”. (not published until 1959).
1820: “Proserpine and Midas”.
1823: “Valperga, or the Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca”. “A Tale of the Passions”. “Madame D’Houtetot”. “The Choice”. “Giovanni Villani”. “Presumption and the Blue Demon”.
1824: “Recollections of Italy”. “On Ghosts”. “The Bride of Modern Italy”.
1826: “The Last Man”.
1828: “The Sisters of Albano”. “Ferdinando Eboli: A Tale”.
1829: “The Mourner”. “The Evil Eye”. “The False Rhyme”. 
1830: “The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck.” “Transformation”. “The Swiss Peasant”.
1831: “The Dream”. “Proserpine, a Mythological Drama in Two Acts”.
1832: “Prosperine, a Mythological Drama in Two Acts.”
1833: “The Smuggler and His Family”. “The Mortal Immortal”.
1836: “The Parvenue” .
1835: “Lodore”. “The Trial of Love”. “The Elder Son”. 
1837: “Falkner”. “The Pilgrims”. “Euphrasia: A Tale of Greece”.
1844: “Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843”.

Marriage:

30th December 1816 To Percy Bysshe Shelley at St. Mildred’s Church, Bread Street, London. Her father William Godwin and his second wife attended.

Site of Grave:

St. Peter’s Church, Bournemouth, England.

Places of Interest:

DORSET:

Boscombe House Museum.

LONDON:

British Museum Library.
National Portrait Gallery.
John Murray Archive, Albemarle Street.

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