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Biography

The life of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was notable from the start. She was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on 30 August 1797 in London. Baby Mary was the first and only child of William Godwin, the anarchist political philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft, the famed author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. These two iconoclasts were total rebels - they'd married just five months before Mary's birth, while Wollstonecraft was pregnant - and their unconventional lives attracted admiration and controversy. Tragically, Mary Wollstonecraft died just ten days after giving birth to her daughter, due to complications from the delivery. Though she never really knew her mother, Shelley always felt a sense of duty toward her mother's powerful legacy.

Mary Shelley credited her parents with her early literary inclinations. "It is not singular that, as the daughter of two persons of distinguished literary celebrity, I should very early in life have thought of writing," Shelley wrote after the success of her novel Frankenstein. "As a child, I scribbled; and my favorite pastime, during the hours given me for recreation, was to 'write stories.'"1 Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin lived up to the promise of her famous names.

William Godwin remarried in 1801 when Mary was four years old. The marriage brought the total number of occupants in the Godwin household to six: Mary, William, Mary's new stepmother Mary Jane Clairmont, Clairmont's two children Charles and Claire, and Fanny Imlay Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter from a previous relationship. In 1803, the household welcomed a seventh member, William Godwin, Jr., William and Mary Jane's son.

Mary Shelley grew up in a vibrant intellectual home. Famous writers and thinkers like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Hazlitt frequently stopped by to hang out with her father. (Mary once hid behind the couch when she was supposed to be asleep in order to listen to Coleridge recite his poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in her parents' living room.) Mary's father and stepmother started a children's printing press together. The press published Mary's first poem, "Mounseer Nongtongpaw," in 1807.

Tensions between Mary and her stepmother increased as Mary entered her teens. To keep the peace in his household, William Godwin sent Mary to the Scotland home of his friends, the Baxters. Mary stayed with the Baxters twice for several months at a time between 1812 and 1814. Their daughter Isabel became Mary's first close friend.

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