If you're studying Frankenstein, I'd hope you already know that it's written by Mary Shelley. Below if a little background to the novel, and click any of the hyperlinks to the left to find out more...


The background to the novel is almost as interesting as the novel itself. It was first begun by Mary Shelley when she and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, stayed at a friend, Lord Byron's, summer house in 1916. Bored one evening (without exams to revise for, TV to watch, video game to play...) they decided to amuse themselves with holding a ghost story writing competition. And thus, nineteen-year-old Shelley shocked them all when from her pen sprung the chilling words: "It was on a dreary night of November..." (Volume I, Chapter V).

Notice she didn't start from the beginning? That wasn't added until later on, meaning she made an obvious choice to start with Victor's childhood. We'll go into that in Vol I, Cha I, though.

Mary Shelley's life was wrought with misfortune. Ten days after her birth (30 August 1797), her mother, the radical feminist, Mary Wollstonecroft died. Her father, philosopher William Godwin quickly remarried, though she never had good relations with her stepmother.

In 1812, Mary first met her husband to be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a radical free-thinker, much like her father. In the summer of 1814, she and Shelley fell in love (despite the fact that he was already married) and they eloped to France in July of that year, taking Mary's stepsister Claire with them.

Mary gave birth to her first child Clara in February, 1815, but to her despair, the girl only lived 12 days. In June 1916, at Byron's summer house, Lake Geneva, Shelley began her novel. She wrote in her diary of how she was inspired: a terrible nightmare in which she held a dead child and by rubbing its back, she was able to bring life back to its cold joints.

This was, remember, the 19th century, the period of Enlightenment. Scientific breakthroughs were occurring daily. In 1831, the mysterious North Pole (Walton's quest) was finally reached; there were advances in medicine and more importantly, into the mysterious wonders of electricity. Mary saw a scientific experiment in which electricity caused a dead frog's legs to twitch. It didn't seem that unlikely that man might soon find the secrets of life.

While she was writing Frankenstein, more tragedies occurred around Mary and Shelley. Returning to England in 1916, her stepmother soon committed suicide, and later, Shelley's former wife drowned herself. Shelley and Mary married, but a third child born in 1817 died when she was a year old.

In spring of 1817, Mary finally finished Frankenstein. It was first published in 1818, though the more commonly read version is the 3rd version, published in 1831, after her woeful life had continued further.

Still grieving their third child, it was a double blow when their second child, William, died in 1819. In the summer of 1922, Mary almost died of a miscarriage. 1922 was also the year that Percy died, drowning when his boat was caught in a storm.

Mary was left with a single child, their fourth, who thankfully survived into adulthood. She worked tirelessly to promote her late husband's work, eventually dying on 1 February 1851.

Back to the Top