Writers That Inspire Us: Mary Shelley Blazed A Trail For High Artistic Horror Fiction

Mary Shelley is the famous author of the globally known novel “Frankenstein,” or otherwise known as  “The Modern Prometheus”. The famous writer was born in the summer of 1797, and she would go on to grow up without a mother. Her mother died a few shorts weeks after Shelley’s birth. This possibly set her up for a childhood full of challenges that prompted Shelley to escape using her imagination.

Her father raised her and provided her with an informal but good education. He also remarried when Mary was four years old, but Mary never got along with her stepmother.

Mary Shelley’s Stormy Life

The famous writer was born on August 30, 1797, in London, England.

She grew up without her birth mother; instead she grew up with a stepmother that never took any liking into her. Her father was a philosopher and political writer. Unfortunately for Shelley, she never had the opportunity to get to know her birth mother. The family dynamic was strained, and Shelley never connected with her stepmother. Shelley had a half-sister, from an affair her mother had before Mary’s birth.

Mary’s stepmother, Mary Jane Clairmont, came into their lives with already two children. One of them called Jane, who received the privilege of formal education, while Mary was left behind. Mary Jane Clairmont and Shelley’s father later had a son together.

Shelley grew up in a household that often hosted a lot of distinguished guests. Among them were William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Although Shelley never had the opportunity to receive a formal education, she used her father’s library to learn as much as she could on her own. She spent countless hours reading by her mother’s grave.

Due to the strained family dynamic and her rocky relationship with her step mother, Shelley spent her time daydreaming and using her imagination to escape the challenges in her daily life.

The famous writer began a relationship with one of her father’s devoted students, Percy Bysshe Shelley, in 1814. At the time, Percy was still married, but that did not stop the couple from being romantically involved. The “adulterous” relationship alienated her from her father and the rest of the family.

This resulted in many financial struggles, and they also lost their first child in 1815.

Mary and Percy traveled around Europe for a while, and they eventually landed in the company of Lord Byron in Switzerland. This was the beginning of the worldwide known novel “Frankenstein.”

Shelley’s sister, Fanny, later committed suicide, which was followed by the suicide of Percy’s wife.

Shelley and her beloved Percy finally married in 1816. Their marriage was one of passion but suffered greatly due to adultery and the loss of two more of their children.

Percy died in 1822 when he drowned while sailing with friends in the Gulf of Spezia.

The famous writer became a widow at the young age of 24, and she worked hard to support her son. Shelley passed away in February of 1851 from brain cancer. She was 53 years old at the time. She was buried at St. Peter’s Church in Bournemouth with her husband’s remains.

The famous writer has often been referred to by academics and literary critics as the mother of science fiction due to her masterpiece “Frankenstein.”

What inspired her to write such a groundbreaking novel for her times?

Shelley likely had a real-life example in mind while she was creating the character of Frankenstein.

Critics claim her masterpiece as a metaphor for her turbulent childhood and scandalous adulthood. Shelley experienced the death of many of her loved ones, starting with the death of her mother that she never had a chance to connect with.

She likely carried guilt for at least two of these deaths, her mother’s and her first born child’s. The famous writer also might have felt guilty for the suicide of Harriet, her husband’s ex-wife.

All these turmoil, guilt, and psychological pain made the perfect cocktail of emotions to prepare her for her masterpiece. When she eventually had the opportunity to spend time with Lord Byron during her travels in Europe, Frankenstein was conceived!

It is apparent that the massive emotional pain, along with rumors she heard while staying with Lord Byron about an eccentric inventor, helped her create “Frankenstein.”

Naturally curious, Shelley was especially interested in the use of electricity and what it can do to the human body.  Her curiosity picked when she heard tales of an alchemist who, at the time, people said that he would rob graves and use his ‘secret recipe’ to bring people back to life.

We can see how she drew writing inspiration from her emotions and her real-life experiences, adding a touch of science and fiction to create her masterpiece.

As anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, and in her case, many loved ones, it is natural to begin contemplating possible ways to reverse death.

Some of Mary Shelley’s Works

  1. History of a Six Weeks’ Tour

  2. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

  3. Mathilda

  4. Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca

  5. Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley

  6. The Last Man

  7. The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck

  8. Lodore

  9. Falkner

  10. The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley

  11. Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843

Lessons For Writing Stories from Mary Shelley’s Work

What can we learn from such a writing pioneer?

While each book is up to the reader to interpret, there are certain universal lessons we can all draw writing inspiration from while writing stories.

  1. Experiment with the horror genre because it allows you to use a range of extreme emotions while writing stories and hook the reader.

  2. When it comes to science-fiction, there are no limits as to where you can take the story. Up your game with every page!

  3. The best way to deliver horror when writing stories is via the use of positive, happy events.

  4. Do not be afraid to use secondary genres within your story.

  5. The best way to grip the reader is by using your own experience as an example. Use your fears, your emotions, your dreams, and hopes.

Mary Shelley implied that writing inspiration cannot wait when she said:

“The beginning is always today.”

The famous writer also viewed writing seriously enough and chased it with passion as a way to support herself and her son.

“I think I can maintain myself, and there is something inspiring in that idea.”

Learn more about the art of writing and other famous writers from The Content Fair.

Elle Fanning in a scene from the movie Mary Shelley. Supplied by Transmission Films.