When it comes to horror, I go promptly in the other direction. I do not like to be scared. If I feel like being terrified, I’ll sit and have a nice, long think about oblivion. I don’t read much horror. I find books are easier to digest than horror films, but mostly I’m just the person curled in a corner convinced that a murderous ghost is out to get them.
I have 81 books in my collection tagged with “horror”. Most of these are vampire books (Anne Rice, Laurell K. Hamilton). Then there’s Stephen King and a handful of Goosebumps or other ghost books. None of them are certainly my favorite. I don’t read King’s horror much, and while I like Anne Rice’s vampire books? I don’t really consider her horror.
Frankenstein stands out, though.
Mary Shelley was an incredible woman. Before she wrote Frankenstein, the horror genre was uncommon. Science fiction was a dream. And she was a woman. Not to bash male authors – there are plenty and I like many of them – but this is a heck of an accomplishment in the 1800s. Shelley fully admits her husband’s contribution to this work, so she harbored no ill feelings either.
Mary Wollencroft Shelley would be a perfect fictional heroine. Her mother dies when she was young and she even ends up with an “evil” step-mother. Mary Shelley’s stepmother – Mary Jane Clairmont – chose not to educate her and preferred her step-sister over Mary. This didn’t stop Mary’s pursuits into writing, and she often wrote little stories as a pastime. Her father’s company published her first poem in 1807.
In famous story of Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein goes as follows:
“Mary Shelley created the story on a rainy afternoon in 1816 in Geneva, where she was staying with her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their friend Lord Byron. Byron proposed they each write a gothic ghost story, but only Mary Shelley completed hers. Although serving as the basis for the Western horror story and the inspiration for numerous movies in the 20th century, the book Frankenstein is much more than pop fiction. The story explores philosophical themes and challenges Romantic ideals about the beauty and goodness of nature.” – History.
Frankenstein is the most famous and widely read of Mary Shelley’s works, but she was a prominent writer in her time. In the 1800s, there were very strict guidelines on what it meant to be a woman. Authoring deep philosophical novels of suspense and horror and impossibilities was not the sort of activity its the pre-Victorian age expected a woman to be dabbling in.
Mary’s life continued to be haunted.
Her half-sister committed suicide by overdose. Her husband’s abandoned first wife drowned mysteriously. Her first child died days after birth. Not in this order, but death haunted the Shelley family in France and England. Their little boy died of malaria, and their other daughter died of dysentery. The losses of her children destroyed Mary, until the birth of her son Percy (who survived). Following that, a miscarriage nearly killed her. Then her husband drowned. Mary supported herself with her writing for 20 years, then died of brain cancer.
She knew very little peace and was hounded by tragedy.
Why is Mary Shelley important?
Mary was the daughter of an outspoken philosopher and feminist. In writing Frankenstein and it’s success, she challenged the role of women in the writing world. She furthered the horror genre and according to many, invented the science fiction genre. The philosophical implications of her work are still discussed today, and the questions asked in Frankenstein are still pondered.
While Mary was not directly involved in politics, she and her husband often held gatherings where politics were discussed, and her husband was a student of her father’s. Shelley uses her other narratives to question the political values of her society, subtly weaving her own believes into the subtext. This is a common theme of her historical novels. She speaks often about gender and her own political views as seen in her writing are challenged and discussed to this day.
And, on a personal note, I think she was brilliant. Her strength to carry on after so much personal tragedy is inspirational.
For more information about Mary Shelley, please check out:
- Mary Shelley – Author
- Frankenstein Published – Mar 11, 1818
- Women and Empire – Mary Shelley
- Mary Shelley
The Book Blogger Hop is hosted weekly on Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. This week’s prompt: Who is your favorite horror/suspense author and why?