Study Guide

Shelley's Mary: A Life of Mary Godwin Shelley

by Margaret Carver Leighton

Shelley's Mary: A Life of Mary Godwin Shelley Summary

Overview

Mature readers should read Shelley's Mary because it brings to life the sensitive young woman who wrote Frankenstein. The biography exposes readers to the exhaustive allusiveness of Frankenstein and familiarizes them with the relationships and tragedies that touched Mary Shelley's life. This knowledge awakens readers to serious cultural and ethical problems still unsolved.

By titling this biography Shelley's Mary, the author calls attention to one of the most important relationships of Mary Shelley's life: her love affair and marriage with Percy Bysshe Shelley, the celebrated free-thinking romantic poet. Implicitly the title signifies both the depth of Mary's devotion to the poet and the subordinate literary position her work has traditionally held when compared with her husband's. Through the details that Leighton provides, the reader is able to grasp the cost of that devotion and subordination to Mary's emotional and professional life. The complex ethical problems caused by Mary's relationship with Shelley suggest that in writing about Frankenstein's monster, she may have been writing—in a symbolic way—about the monsters of guilt and frustration that haunted her own life.

Mary Shelley was born to brilliant, famous, unstable parents. Her mother died when Mary was born, and her father's remarriage imposed on Mary a stepmother and a demanding, parasitic stepsister. When Mary eloped with Percy Shelley, he was married to...

(The entire section is 356 words.)