The Practice of Creativity

Women Writers from the Past Who Inspire: Mary Shelley

Posted on: March 30, 2012

Guest Post by Fi Phillips

Most writers will have heard of how the seed of the creation that became Frankenstein came into being.  In 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her lover Percy Bysshe Shelley, their son and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont spent the summer near Geneva in Switzerland. Holidaying with them were the poet Lord Byron and his doctor John William Polidori.  At this point, Mary was calling herself Mary Shelley although she would not marry Percy until later that year after the suicide of his wife.

Renting villas close to Lake Geneva, this should have been a summer of boating and sunshine but Mary Shelley wrote that,

‘It proved a wet, ungenial summer… and incessant rain often confined us for days in the house’.

Conversation turned to the experiments of Erasmus Darin in his attempts to re-animate dead matter, and ghost stories, the group often talking late into the night. It was Byron who suggested that they write their own supernatural stories.

In what Mary called, ‘a waking dream’, she came upon the idea for ‘Frankenstein’.  At first, she thought it would be a short story but with Percy’s encouragement she expanded her idea into the novel we now know, published in 1818.

Mary was never going to be a follower of the norm. Both of her unorthodox parents, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin were philosophers and writers. Her mother died when Mary was only days old but she cherished her mother’s memory, her writings and her lifestyle. This individuality and following of her heart (and her creativity) has always drawn me to the character of Mary Shelley.

At a time when the majority of formally published authors were men, Mary published her novel anonymously. It was assumed that as this was not a story of romance and the interior sphere of the home the author must be male. The fact that Percy wrote the novel’s preface and dedicated the book to his hero (Mary’s father) William Godwin caused many to believe that Mary’s husband was the author. The novel was received well and viewed as an intellectual piece of writing rather than a horror novel.

Mary was a strong, individual woman who would carve out a career in writing, eventually being recognised as the author of Frankenstein although it was not the only novel she wrote, or indeed her only piece of writing. After her husband’s death, she would hold fast to her writing as a means to support herself and her son, editing her husband’s poetry, writing her novels, assisting friends in writing their memoirs and other literary endeavours.

Mary Shelley has always been an inspiration to me in her individuality, her strength as a mother, her refusal to succumb to society’s judgements, and her commitment to her writing. Intelligent and forward thinking, she created many works but her novel Frankenstein would produce a figure of stage, screen, comedy and tragedy, bridging the divide between  the canon and popular fiction. Mary Shelley would be remembered.

Fi Phillips

Fi Phillips is a mum and wife, and currently writes murder mystery plays
for her small business Murdering The Text. She is a literature graduate,
originally from York but currently living in North Wales.

For many years, she worked in an office environment until the arrival of
her two children robbed her of her short term memory and sent her hurtling
down a new, often bumpy, creative path. Writing is her passion and she
finds that getting the words down on paper is the best way to keep the
creative muse out of her shower.

Check out Fi’s blog  ‘Magical Writing Haven’- http://fionajphillips.blogspot.com
Her  business website is http://www.murderingthetext.co.uk

(Photo Credit Wikipedia)

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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