1797 – 1851
Who: English novelist, travel writer, and mother of science fiction. Daughter of noted feminist and rabble rouser, Mary Wollstonecraft.
Signature Difficult Moves: At sixteen fell in love with one of her father’s students — married, twenty-one year old radical poet Percy Shelley. After declaring their love for one another somewhat melodramatically on Mary’s mother’s grave, the pair ran off to Europe where they spent the summer in Switzerland with Lord Byron and others. There, Mary wrote Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. Widely considered the first science fiction novel, it’s the story of a young scientist and compulsive mansplainer who creates a monster that suffers an existential crisis after reading Paradise Lost, then goes on to murder a bunch of people.
What People Said About Her: “In Mary Shelley’s novels there really are no heroes—there are women helping save men and women helping save one another. They’re talking about issues and ideas that we think are modern, but that they are holding forth as important principles in the 18th and 19th century.” — Charlotte Gordon, author of Romantic Outlaws, The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter Mary Shelley
Personals: Married Percy Shelley after his wife committed suicide. Gave birth to four children, only one of whom survived to adulthood. Widowed at age 24 when Shelley drowned in a boating accident.
Feminine Charms: A woman of “love and light” according to a poem written by her husband.
How She Spoke Truth To Power: After the death of her husband she supported herself and her son by her pen. Shelley’s father, her father-in-law, threatened to refuse to send money to support his grandson unless she surrendered the child to him. She refused, and started another novel (The Last Man, published to great success in 1826).
Quote To Live By: “The beginning is always today.”