> Indice

- MARY SHELLEY
Born on 30th August 1797, Mary Shelley was the only child of William Godwin, a philosopher and novelist and Mary Wollstonecraft, a clever and erudite writer who was an advocate of equality between the sexes. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, detail of an oil painting by R. Rothwell, first exihibited in 1840.Unfortunately she died ten days after Mary was born. Two years later her father married M.J. Clairmont, a widow with two daughters.
Mary was strongly impressed by the brilliant talks she listened to since she was surrounded by famous writers and philosophers. The intellectual environment in which she lived stimulated her Romantic sensibility and the political revolutionary ideas of the time.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's signature.She was a girl when she met Coleridge since he was one of her father's friends. In 1814, at the age of sixteen, she met the poet P.B. Shelley who often visited her house together with his wife, Harriet Westbrook. Mary fell in love with him and they began to meet secretly. Because of public hostility, even by her father, they eloped to France returning to England after a few weeks.
In 1815 Mary gave birth to a daughter, Clara, who died a few days later. In 1816 the Shelleys went to Switzerland and settled on the Lake Geneva near Byron's villa (Villa Diodati). It was there that M. Shelley had the idea of writing her masterpiece, Frankenstein, after the stimulating conversations on literature and life she had with Shelley and Byron.
Back in England they got married after the death of Shelley's wife who had committed suicide. In 1818 Frankenstein was published anonymously.
In the same year the Shelleys travelled to Italy. They spent some time in Naples and in Rome and then they moved to Florence where Mary gave birth to a son: Percy Florence, the only one to survive infancy, since the other two children she had had were already dead at that time.
Mary had already written a novel Mathilda and at this time wrote Valperga. In 1822 they moved to Lerici where Percy and one of his friends drowned in a storm during a sailing trip.
Mary was compelled to return to England which she despised because of the conformism of society.
Between 1826 and 1830 she wrote The Last Man and Perkin Warbeck and she edited and publicised her husband's literary works.
She spent her last years with the family of her son and died on 1st February 1851 of a brain tumour.
She is buried in Bournemouth.


- PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in Sussex in 1792. His father was an aristocratic and conservative Percy Bysshe Shelley, oil painting by Amelia Curran, 1819.Member of Parliament. In spite of his wealthy social conditions, his childhood was not so happy. He was not tolerant of authority and very soon revealed himself to have a rebellious spirit, rising against social conventions and custom. He attended Eton College and there he was given the nickname of "mad Shelley" or "Shelley the Atheist" because of his criticism of social tyranny. In 1810 he went to Oxford University from which, however, he was expelled for writing a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism (1811). At the age of 19 he decided to go and live in London since his father did not give him any financial support, there he met a sixteen-year-old Methodist girl, Harriet Westbrook, who later became his wife. Their marriage lasted three years and during this period they moved from place to place, including Ireland where Shelley was a political activist in the cause of emancipation from British rule. His rebellion against institutions and religion was more and more evident. Back in England he became associated with the radical philosopher William Godwin and in his household he met Mary, Godwin's daughter. They fell in love with each other and so in 1814 he eloped with her first to France and then to Switzerland abandoning Harriet and his two children. On returning to London, Shelley found himself condemned as an immoral atheist and when Harriet committed suicide in 1816 he was denied custody of the children. In December of the same year Shelley married Mary and lived for a short period at Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire. Shelley left England for Italy in 1818, and here wrote his best work Ode to the West Wind (1819), To a Skylark (1820), The Cenci (1819) a verse tragedy, Prometheus Unbound (1820 ) a lyrical drama, Adonais (1821) an elegy, A Defence of poetry (1821) an unfinished essay.
Unfortunately, in 1822 while sailing back home from Leghorn with his friend Edward Williams and a sailor-boy, he was caught in a storm off Viareggio, and the three were drowned. The bodies of the friends were washed ashore several days later and in the presence of Byron, they were burned after ancient Greek fashion on the sands near Viareggio. Shelley's ashes were placed in a box and later buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome.


- MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT
"The divine right of husbands, like the divine
right of kings, it is hoped, in this enlightened
age, be contested without danger."
from A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792
Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's mother, is well known as an advocate of equality between the sexes, in fact she led her life on the side of women. In her famous book A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) she attacks the system of women's education affirming that women are kept in a state of dependence on men and are considered as weak and passive. She struggled to affirm the ideals of women's emancipation and equal rights to men criticizing the contemporary morality and prejudices.
She was not "anti-men" but against the society which creates women's submission to men's authority:
"I love man as my fellow; but his sceptre, real or usurped, extends not to me, unless the reason of an individual demands my homage, and even then the submission is to reason, and not to man" .
Born in London on April 27th, 1759 she left home at the age of twenty-one after her mother's death.
From 1783 to 1785 she was a teacher in a school that she ran together with her sister. She then wrote a book Thoughts on Education of Daughters (1787) in which she expressed avant-garde ideas on the upbringing of women. In the same year she went to Ireland to work as a governess in a noble family but she soon returned to England . She started writing translations and reviews for radical magazines.
In 1792 she went to Paris where she met Gilbert Inlay who was an American writer, and she gave birth to a daughter called Fanny. She published a new book A Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution. She followed Inlay to Norway and published her impressions about the journey in Letters written during a short residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
Inlay became indifferent and unfaithful to her and in 1796 she returned to London where she attempted suicide.
Her sympathies were always directed to radical circles, she then met William Godwin, a famous radical writer, and fell in love with him. They married in 1797, but unfortunately she died in the same year after giving birth to her daughter Mary, the future novelist.

- WILLIAM GODWIN
William Godwin, Mary Shelley's father, was born on March 3rd, 1756. He was at first a Dissenting Minister, but became an atheist philosopher and a radical who expressed optimism rooted in William Godwin, oil painting by J. W. Chandler, 1798.confidence in the power of human reason. He believed that men acted according to reason and that rational beings could live in harmony without laws or institutions. His wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, died giving birth to Mary, he then married a Mrs Clairmont whose daughter by her first marriage had a relationship with Byron, bearing him a child.
In his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) he stated that "Truth is omnipotent... Man is perfectible, or in other words susceptible of perpetual improvement." He criticized society affirming that all men are born equal but they are influenced by the environment in which they live, so a bad environment gives origin to a bad individual. He asserted that through reason man can distinguish between good and bad environments but man must have the opportunity to use it freely, without any restaint. He was a strong assertor of the importance which is to be given to education seen as a means to get freedom of choice. He was a supporter of the French Revolution and spent his life promoting its ideals and principles. His work was almost subversive even because he affirmed that all institutions generate evil and the reference here is not only to State and Church but also to school and family. His writings influenced the Romantic poets. He also wrote several novels such as St. Leon (1799), Fleetwood (1805), Mandeville (1817), Cloudesley (1830) and Deloraine (1833). However, the most important was Caleb Williams (1797), a remarkable novel of crime, detection and psychological study.
He died in London on April 7th, 1836.

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