Frankenstein Part II: Know the Author

RothwellMaryShelleyWelcome back! Today I plan on chatting about our author, Mary Shelley.  What I like to tell my students is, “know your author.” — Okay, as a side note, I hope when I do that (refer to students) it does not become annoying. But I am an English teacher and it’s really hard to switch that tone and the vernacular that comes along with it. So, if you can, be gracious. And always know that I consider myself a “student” right along with you. I love digging! And every time I read something for a second time or more I learn something new! That means I am NOT an expert. I am an enthusiast! — Okay, I’ve digressed–back to Mary Shelley.

I find it very important, whenever possible, to know your author before you begin reading a full work. This does not mean you have to know everything, but having a broad understanding of who the person was, where they came from, and what cultural or religious climate they knew is very helpful. It comes down to, in part, giving honor to the person and not just the work itself. Any written word can be taken out of context if the intention or motivation of the author is set aside or purposefully dismissed. I’d love to speak in more detail on this point, but perhaps that is for another time and another post. Also, it can give greater insight into the text itself.  Think of the book like a puzzle. There will be questions certainly– gaps and missing pieces.  Some things we may never know. However, the author factor is one that is usually available to us and I like to take full advantage and apply what I can when looking for insight as I close read.

I will add that most of what I share here will be from a broad understanding of what I know of Mary Shelley. I’ll tell an abbreviated story of sorts from my own perspective and memory.

Here we go…

Mary Shelley was born on August 30th, 1797 to passionate intellectuals, William Godwin and Mary Wolstonecraft.  Best known for her novel, Frankenstein, and her support and work with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, she was also a woman of many experiences, many to be proud of and equally, many of great tragedy and loss.

Mary’s mother was as passionate, kind, driven, and at times misguided, as her daughter. If you attempt any kind of study on Mary Shelley it will without doubt very quickly come around to her mother, an equal subject of worthy study and discourse. Here also is a person who I could talk about, but if I’m not careful I could spend a lengthy amount of time. I perhaps will add Mary Wolstonecraft as a post in itself. Some of Mary’s greatest qualities were inherited from her mother, passed down through her work, through her DNA, and perhaps through an emotional connection between the two that spanned far beyond the earth we know and the galaxy we call our home.  Unfortunately, not only her mother’s greatest qualities were passed down, but it seems as though also her vulnerabilities. We will all have our own demons that we will fight..some we never saw coming. It does not surprise me that these were common between mother and daughter as well. — I would like to note here once again, that I am a Christian. Everything I read I process through my knowledge of Jesus’ great compassion and His Word. I won’t take time to comment lengthily on this matter, but I wonder if there is perhaps even a spiritual battle here common to these two ladies —a chain that needed to be broken.

It is natural that a mother influence a child. For most of us this is something we can observe in our own lives.  However, for Mary Shelley, it was not the time spent with her that had its greatest influence, it was in fact, her time apart.  Mary Wollstonecraft gave birth to Mary and died of infection only ten days later.  — We might consider how this would have affected a young child such as Mary.  Children at times have a tendency to blame themselves unnecessarily for things that go wrong in the world, particularly in the little world we call family and home. Mary loved her father greatly, even adored him. Here it would be helpful to understand how deeply William Godwin loved Mary’s mother. He loved her greatly, both for her intellect and beauty. He and Mary Wollstonecraft also thought very similarly on large matters and collaborated on many items concerning child-rearing, study, and writing.  Mary had brought a daughter into their marriage, Fanny, who Godwin loved and adopted as his own. Of course, they still looked forward to bringing a new life into this world together. Mary Godwin’s picture, oil painted, hung over his desk in his office, even after re-marrying a few years later. Was this picture something that she looked up to and admired, aspired to emulate? Did this picture loom over her and cast a shadow on a life that had barely even begun? My opinion is that the answer is both.

Here is where I make confession. What looks like might have been an hour’s writing…was not. It’s been longer. You don’t need to know how long. But let’s just say that I’ve mowed the grass a few times and contemplated the direction this is going a good deal. My goal here is not necessarily to give you a perfectly rounded out synopsis of Mary Shelley’s life, but instead to hopefully whet your interest and send you on your own quest. I’m getting pretty excited about this! How does that sound? 🙂

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