The English writer Mary Shelley was born in London on August 30th 1797 by the philosopher William Godwin, one of the most important exponents of anarchist rationalism, and by Mary Wollstonecraft, a strong and determined woman among the first characters of her era to promote women's rights. Unfortunately, this exceptional mother who could certainly give her daughter a lot, died shortly after giving birth. Godwin will remarry in 1821 with a widow of his acquaintance and mother of two children, Mrs Clairmont.
Mary instead meets during a stay in Scotland the young and brilliant rebel poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who married in 1816, just nineteen and after a daring escape to Switzerland. Behind the poet there was a tragedy because he had already lost a first wife, Harriet Westbrook, who died a suicide and because of the breaking up of his relationship with his father, whom he would never see again. The excessive and restless English poet will then become famous for the story "The Queen Mab" and for the lyric drama "Prometheus released".
In 1822, after moving to La Spezia, Percy Shelley and a friend, husband of a common friend, leave for Genoa: the two will not come back; the body of the poet is found among the waves on July 15th.
Back in London after the death of her feverish husband, Mary lives in England with the proceeds of her work as a professional writer. Author of various novels, will become famous especially for "Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus", his first book written in 1818 and born almost for fun, that is when Byron, during a summer stay with the Shelley and the faithful Polidori in Geneva, suggested that each of them wrote a horror story, a story that everyone would then read to others as an evening pastime. Shelley composed a short opera called "The Assassins", Byron wrote the story "The burial" (which was published in 1819 under the title "A fragment") while Polidori created the romantic figure of a fascinating and mysterious vampire, with the short novel "The vampire"; Mary wrote instead Frankenstein, after having dreamed of it in a terrible nightmare (so at least the legend tells). The subject, however, is clearly inspired by the ancient myth of the creator of life (but also to the "Metamorphosis" of Ovid and to the "lost Paradise" of Milton), but in which the prodigy substitutes chemistry and galvanism.
The book deals with the story of a young Swiss scholar of natural philosophy who, using anatomical parts subtracted from various bodies, builds a monstrous creature, which he succeeds with procedures of which he alone has the secret to infuse the spark of life. In spite of its terrifying appearance, the creature reveals itself to be the quintessence of goodness of heart and of meekness of spirit. But when he becomes aware of the disgust and fear he arouses in others, his nature, inclined to goodness, undergoes a total transformation and he becomes a real destructive fury; after many crimes he ends up killing his creator too.
Brian W. Aldiss, an English critic and writer himself of science fiction, puts the novel of Mary Shelley at the basis of modern science fiction and it is undoubted that all the stories written later and based on the combination Creator-Creature travel along the lines of "Frankenstein" .
Of course, Mary Shelley also owes other works, some of which also pre-empt typically science-fiction themes (such as "The Last Man", a novel that narrates the only survivor of a terrible epidemic that has erased all of humanity), stories that never reached the fame of his first work.
The success of his first book, which has enjoyed constant fortune and has been the subject of countless imitations, is due to the amount of ethical and philosophical questions and doubts that it is able to raise, such as speculations on the origins of life, the the ambiguous role of science, often unconscious creator of "monsters", the problem of man's original goodness and creativity, later corrupted by society, and so on.
A disturbing note of Mary Shelley's life is drawn from the tragic end that almost all the participants in those Geneva nights did: Percy Shelley, as said, drowned because of a shipwreck, Byron died very young in Missolungi, Polidori committed suicide ...
Mary, however, after a tormented existence (which after the success and death of her husband continued filled with scandals, economic difficulties and rejected love), will die in London on February 1, 1851, after leading a serene old age in the company of the only child rimastole.