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Mary Shelley Introduction

What Mary Shelley did... and why you should care

It's a rainy, gloomy day in Switzerland in the summer of 1816. A house full of young Romantic poets and their romantic partners lounge about bored, looking for something to do. Finally the most famous of the group, Lord Byron, suggests they each think of a ghost story. The nineteen-year-old wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley falls asleep trying to think of a good story. It comes to her in a dream. She wakes up and begins to write a story about what happens when man tries - and fails - to play God. The result is Frankenstein, the first modern horror novel.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is best known as the author of Frankenstein, but there's more to her life than her famous monster. Shelley was the daughter of two rebels, the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the anarchist William Godwin. She ran off with the poet Percy Shelley when she was sixteen and he was married. Her life attracted attention, controversy and a good deal of criticism. Whatever the salacious details of her biography, Shelley was at heart a writer. Her novels and stories plumbed the Romantics' dual fascination and fear about the power of technology. Nearly 200 years later, when headlines about cloning and swine flu are scaring the bejeebers out of us, her ideas are no less valid.


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