Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: As an innovative and politically subversive writer of novels, tales, and stories, Shelley was a significant contributor to the history of women’s writing and the development of prose fiction.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in London on August 30, 1797, to the celebrated feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and the radical philosopher William Godwin. Ten days later, Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever, and for four years William raised his daughter and her half-sister Fanny (Wollstonecraft’s daughter with Gilbert Imlay) alone. From infancy, Mary was in the company not only of her philosopher father but also of his friends, among them the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the essayists Mary and Charles Lamb.
William apparently felt unfit to raise his daughters alone, and when he married Mary Jane Clairmont in 1801, he cited as one motivation his need for assistance with educating Mary and Fanny. Mary seems to have disliked her new stepmother, and whatever the truth of Clairmont’s feelings about her stepdaughter, Mary certainly believed that her stepmother—who tended to privilege her own daughter, Jane—resented the bond between William and his daughter. As Mary grew into adolescence, she turned to a study of her mother’s writings, often reading in the solitude of Wollstonecraft’s grave in Saint Pancras churchyard. She read and absorbed not only...
(The entire section is 2180 words.)
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