Mary Shelley, the Original Goth Girl
You might have been edgy in high school, but you’ve got nothing on Mary Shelley. She basically invented science-fiction before she was 20 thanks to her fascination with bringing the dead back to life, got it on in graveyards, kept her dead husband’s heart in a box on her desk, and generally ruminated on love and death more than a century before Siouxie Sioux ever contemplated the height of her hair. Your fave could never.
Her Parents Were Badass
Mary Shelley, then known as Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, was the only child of radical philosopher William Godwin and author Mary Wollstonecraft, who was one of the most famous feminists at a time when they were usually burned at the stake. It’s hard to find a gothier pedigree without demanding actual witches.
Her Mother’s Death
The path of Mary’s life was set almost immediately, when her mother died about a week and a half after giving birth. She grieved the loss from the time she learned how to, and she was constantly evaluated in comparison to her mother’s famed beauty and intellect, so the second Mary Wollstonecraft was essentially regarded as a ghost.
Her Fascination With Reanimation
It’s obvious why Mary Shelley’s most famous work ended up concerning creating life from death, and in her time, that was thought to be possible with this newfangled technology of electricity. Her father counted the era’s foremost electrical scientists as friends, and public experiments that involved things like making dead frogs dance by sending currents to their legs were what counted as entertainment before YouTube. Mary was almost certainly aware of such exhibitions and presumably thought they were cool as shit.
Her Unusual Education
Though her intellectual family ensured that she was tutored and well read, Mary had no formal education. In fact, she learned to write her name by tracing the letters on mother’s gravestone.
She Really Loved Graveyards
Mary found her mother’s grave comforting and spent a lot of time there, so when she started to fall for poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she considered long walks in the cemetery a perfectly normal date. She almost certainly lost her virginity there, probably on her mother’s grave.
She Ran Away From Home
There’s no goth rite of passage like running away home because your parents, like, totally don’t get you, and Mary was no different. Her father disapproved of her relationship with Shelley for a bunch of valid reasons, so at age 16, she ran away with him to bounce around Europe.
The Year Without a Summer (But With a Frankenstein)
Mary wrote Frankenstein, appropriately, during an unusually wet and dreary time known as the Year Without a Summer that left the Shelleys cooped up in Lord Byron’s villa during what was supposed to be a nice vacation. Byron challenged everyone to write a ghost story because he was a man who really knew how to party, and suffice it to say Mary understood the assignment.
The Frankenstein Nightmare
Mary actually had some trouble coming up with a story to satisfy her captor until she was struck by a “waking nightmare” during a rainstorm. With “shut eyes but acute mental vision,” she saw “the pale student of the unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together” and “the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion.” In other words, some fucked up shit.
Her Continued Acquaintance With Death
Frankenstein was also almost certainly inspired by the death of the Shelleys’ first child, who died after only a few weeks, leaving Mary tortured by dreams of bringing the child back to life. Within the next decade or so, Mary also experienced the deaths of two more children and her half-sister, so it’s a good thing she was so comfortable in graveyards.
Life Almost Killed Her
Mary Shelley came dangerously close to death herself on at least one occasion. She nearly bled out after her fifth pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, ironically saved by packing herself in ice like a corpse.
Her Husband’s Death
As one of Death’s final insults, Mary Shelley became a widow at just 24 years old. Percy Shelley died in a sailing accident or possibly a suicide after taking his boat out in a storm following weeks of terrifying visions. You know how those Romantics can get.
She Kept Her Dead Husband’s Heart
According to witnesses at Percy Shelley’s funeral pyre, his heart wouldn’t burn, which can apparently happen for all sorts of perfectly unromantic reasons, though it might have been his liver or kidney. In any event, what was believed to be his heart was returned to Mary, and it’s not like you can just throw out something like that. After her own death, their son found it in a box on her desk wrapped in one of his father’s poems.
She Edited Her Husband’s Poetry
Poetry is essential to the goth lifestyle, and although Mary was never much of a poet herself, it’s hard to argue that becoming the keeper of a dead man’s poetry isn’t at least as good. After his death, Mary put herself in charge of her husband’s legacy, determined to write his biography and going so far as to edit and even “enhance” his poetry.
Her Other Writings Were Just As Dark
Although none of them reached the notoriety of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley wrote dozens of novels and short stories in her life, some of which were just as dark. The 1826 novel The Last Man is about a plague that nearly wipes out humanity, and the novella Mathilda is about a young woman whose father is driven to madness by his creepy obsession with her, which is arguably much more disturbing than an electricity baby man.
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She Died (Relatively) Young
The lifelong tennis match between Mary Shelley and Death ended when she died of brain cancer at 53 years old. Her parents’ bodies were later moved to the tomb where she was buried so she could spend eternity doing what she loved most: hanging out with her dead mom.
Top image: National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia Commons