Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was the daughter of two illustrious parents, William Godwin, a pioneer of philosophical radicalism, and Mary Wollstonecraft, whose A Vindication of the Rights of Women launched the feminist movement. Mary was born August 30, 1797; her mother died eleven days later. Raised by her father and his second wife Mary Jane Clairmont, Mary met the elite of England’s intellectuals including Erasmus Darwin, Charles Lamb, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and eventually, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley was already married, but a year and a half after his first meeting Mary, they scandalized society by eloping to France in July 1814. Their eight-year relationship (they married after Shelley’s wife committed suicide in 1816) produced four children, only one of whom survived. Her husband drowned July 8, 1822, and Mary dedicated the rest of her life to caring for their son Percy, editing her husband’s works and doing her own writing. Her works include History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817), a journal written jointly with her husband, Frankenstein (1818), Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), Falkner (1837), and Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844). She died February 1, 1851.
The impetus for Frankenstein came on a stormy night in 1816 while Mary, then eighteen, was a guest at the poet Lord Byron’s Villa Diodati near the Swiss Alps. Byron began the night’s entertainment by reading from a book of ghost tales and then reciting Coleridge’s poem “Christabel.” He next proposed that each of those present compose a ghost story. Although the others in the party quickly came up with ideas, Mary could not think of any. Then, finally, a few nights later, a vision appeared. Mary described it as follows: I saw-with shut eyes, but acute mental vision-I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some power engine show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful it must be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.
She began to write Frankenstein the next day.