Most people will be familiar with the story behind how the idea for Frankenstein was conceived. The outline of Frankenstein was written during the Year Without Summer (1816), when Mary Shelley was part of a group visiting the poet Lord Byron at his villa near Lake Geneva. The visit was not the sun-drenched holiday that people might expect it to be. An ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Indonesia had shrouded the northern hemisphere in darkness and led to 1816 having a very cold and wet summer. Because of this unusual weather Mary and her friends spent a lot of time indoors and amused themselves by developing ghosts stories. It was during this dark wet summer that Frankenstein was born.
What most people won't know about Mary Shelley however is how tragic and beset with hardship the majority of her life seemingly was.
Mary Shelley (née Godwin) was born in London in 1797 and just ten days after her birth her mother died from complications resulting from childbirth. In 1814 at the age of sixteen Mary fell in love with a married man, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the pair eloped to Europe. During this sojourn Mary became pregnant and when the couple's money eventually ran out they were forced to return to London with their tails between their legs. Because Percy was a married man with his own young family, upon her return to London Mary became a social outcast and was disowned by her father. The couple's financial situation was somewhat dire and Percy was forced to abandon Mary for a while to go into hiding to escape his numerous creditors. The couple's first child was born in 1815, but was sadly two-months premature and soon died. The couple's second and third children also died young with one dying in 1818 of dysentery and the other dying in 1819 from malaria at the age of three. 1816 was also a bad year for the couple, with Mary's half-sister (Fanny Godwin) committing suicide by an overdose of laudanum, and Percy's pregnant wife (Harriet Westbrook) committing suicide by throwing herself into London's Serpentine River.
The couple's relationship was also relatively short, with Percy drowning in 1822 whilst out sailing off the Italian coast. It seems that Percy and his two companions were caught out by a storm and the three never made it to their destination. Their bodies were eventually found on a beach 10 days after the storm and Percy's corpse was cremated near to where he was found.
Mary herself eventually died in 1851 at the age of 53 after a long illness, which was possibly caused by a brain tumour. After her death a silk parcel was found in Mary's possessions that was said to contain some of Percy's ashes along with the remains of his heart - which legend suggests refused to burn when he was cremated. Percy's incombustible heart was eventually interred with Mary's remains in St Peter's Churchyard in Bournemouth. Their tomb can be seen in the following pictures.
|St. Peter's Church in Bournemouth.|
|Mary Shelley's grave.|
|The nearby pub - "The Mary Shelley" - a dead giveaway that there is some Mary Shelley related heritage nearby. Pubs names often offer clues to nearby interesting history. The "Herbert George Wells" in Woking is another good example.|
Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).
If you find this post interesting please share it using the buttons below.