Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, often known as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley) was a British novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, travel writer, and editor of the works of her husband, Romantic poet, and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. She is best known for her novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), which became a classic of English literature.
Mary Shelley was born in London. She was the daughter of the political philosopher William Godwin and the writer, philosopher, and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
Shelley was raised by her father, who remarried after her mother's death. Mary received an excellent education, and she was encouraged to read widely.
Mary Shelley was taken seriously as a writer in her lifetime, though reviewers often missed the political edge of her novels. After her death, however, she was chiefly remembered as the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley and as the author of Frankenstein.
It was not until 1989, when Emily Sunstein published her prizewinning biography Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality, that a full-length scholarly biography analyzing all of Shelley's letters, journals, and works within their historical context was published.
The well-meaning attempts of Mary Shelley's son and daughter-in-law to Victorianise her memory through the censoring of letters and biographical material contributed to a perception of Mary Shelley as a more conventional, less reformist figure than her works suggest. Her own timid omissions from Percy Shelley's works and her quiet avoidance of public controversy in the later years of her life added to this impression.
The eclipse of Mary Shelley's reputation as a novelist and biographer meant that, until the last thirty years, most of her works remained out of print, obstructing a larger view of her achievement. She was seen as a one-novel author if that.
In addition to Frankenstein, Shelley wrote several other novels, including The Last Man, Lodore, and Mathilda. She also wrote short stories, essays, and travelogues.
In recent decades, however, the republication of almost all her writings has stimulated a new recognition of their value. Her voracious reading habits and intensive study, revealed in her journals and letters and reflected in her works, are now better appreciated.
Scholars now consider Mary Shelley a major figure of Romanticism, significant for her literary achievements and her political voice as a woman and a liberal.