2018 marks the bicentenary of the publication of Frankenstein, the literary masterpiece that today is world famous as source of two of our most enduring archetypes, the obsessive scientist and the almost-human he creates. Lesser known, perhaps, is the story of the teenager who wrote it. Mary Shelly was only 18 when, during a storm in June 1816, she competed with Shelley, Byron and John Polidori, Byron’s physician, to write a supernatural tale. The result was her canonical novel Frankenstein.
Daughter of philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley was brought up by her father (her mother died days after her birth), in a household of radical thinkers, poets, philosophers and writers of the day – a world of political passion, scientific curiosity and radical new thought.
Aged sixteen, she eloped with Romantic Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, embarking on a relationship that was lived on the move across Britain and Europe. She coped with debt, infidelity and the deaths of three children, before early widowhood changed her life forever.
This exhibition, supported by Roehampton University, London and curated by award winning poet and writer Fiona Sampson to coincide with her recent biography In Search of Mary Shelley. Sampson sifted through letters, diaries and records to discover the real woman behind the story. She uncovers a complex, generous character – friend, intellectual, lover and mother – trying to fulfil her own passionate commitment to writing at a time when to be a woman writer was an extraordinary and costly anomaly.
Wordsworth Trust archival holdings includes a first edition of Frankenstein, which will be on display alongside objects and artwork from the collection and on loan including the hotel register page that shows a scandalous inscription by Percy Shelley during the Alpine tour with Mary Shelley and Lord Byron in 1816.