On August 30th, 1797, Mary Shelley was born, and the world was never the same. The queen of goth, Mary wrote one of the most iconic books of the 19th century, changing the way we think of the macabre.
Frankenstein is a horror story and social commentary that has been a staple in libraries, schools, and homes around the world. The book follows Doctor Frankenstein and his zombie-like creation, exploring the dynamics of free will, “otherness,” and social norms, all from the perspective of Frankenstein’s monster. And while it’s easy to define Mary from this book, there’s so much more to this author than just that. To honor her birthday and her legacy, we’ve rounded up nine facts you may not know about the queen of horror.
1She was only 18 when she wrote Frankenstein.
Mary wrote Frankenstein when she was still a teenager, while in Switzerland with her stepsister Jane Clairmont, writer John Polidori, poet Lord Byron, and her soon-to-be husband Percy Shelley. As the story goes, on one rainy night in the castle, Lord Byron suggested that the group try their hand at writing horror stories. Mary’s story would eventually become Frankenstein.
2And she was only 20 when it was published.
Two years after she wrote the book, it was published. But, not under her name.
3Mary didn’t publish Frankenstein under her name until five years after it was out.
Originally published anonymously, Frankenstein’s first edition had a forward by Percy Shelley, which led many to believe it was actually his work. It wasn’t until 1823 that Mary published the book under her own name.
4The novel was inspired by a nightmare.
In the preface of the third edition of the novel, Mary says that Frankenstein actually came to her in a dream. She wrote,
5She was the daughter of writers.
Mary’s parents were both writers. Her father was William Godwin, a political writer and philosopher, and her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the first feminist authors. Sadly, her mother died less than a month after she was born. Although her father would not approve of her future spouse, he did nurture her creativity and knack for writing, thanks to his extensive library and penchant for interesting and well-known visitors like poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth.
6Mary married the poet Percy Shelley after running off with him and having his child.
Percy was a student of Mary’s father and was married when he and Mary first started their romance. They fled England together, and Mary eventually had his child, who died shortly after. Mary’s father was upset, and didn’t speak to her for some time. Percy’s wife, Harriet Westbrook, died in 1816 by suicide, which led to Percy and Mary’s marriage. There’s speculation that Mary’s father killed Harriet to save his daughter’s reputation.
7Mary’s novel is actually about Doctor Frankenstein, not Frankenstein himself.
While it’s easy to assume that Frankenstein is the monster, the title actually refers to Doctor Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s monster, who was referred to as a creature, monster ,and demon, actually looked very different from how we think of him now. In the novel, the monster was said to have long hair, yellow translucent skin, glowing eyes, and black lips.
8Mary may have found inspiration in Frankenstein Castle and alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel.
Frankenstein wasn’t just a name that Mary made up. There’s actually a Frankenstein Castle in Germany that may have served as inspiration for the author. Alchemist Johann Conrad Dippel was born and lived at Frankenstein Castle, and is said to be the inspiration behind Doctor Frankenstein.
9Her husband’s heart was calcified, and she kept it wrapped in his poems.
Percy Shelley drowned in 1822, making Mary a widow at age 24. Although his body was cremated, his heart had been calcified and wouldn’t burn. When Mary’s only surviving child, a son, emptied his mother’s desk after she died in 1851, he found many interesting things tucked away, including hair from Mary’s children who had died and the remains of Percy’s heart, which was wrapped in one of his poems.
Today, on Mary’s birthday and Frankenstein Day, we remember the queen of horror and all the amazing gothic literature we have because of her.