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Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley

A Famous Mother/Daughter Pair

By Floramaria Deter

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

Columbia University Press

Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer in feminist thinking and writing, gave birth to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in 1797. Her mother died soon after childbirth due to a fever. How could this have influenced Shelley’s writings? Although her mother did not live long enough to influence Shelley directly, it is clear that the Wollstonecraft and the ideas of the Romantic era greatly shaped Shelley’s beliefs.

Wollstonecraft was strongly influence by Thomas Paine and argued that women deserved equal rights. She saw how her own father treated her mother as property and refused to allow the same future. When she became old enough, she earned a living as a governess, but was bored with this work and wanted to challenge her intellect. When she was 28, she wrote a semi-autobiographical novel titled "Maria". She soon moved to London and became an admired professional writer and editor who wrote about the rights of women and children.

In 1790, Wollstonecraft wrote her essay "A Vindication of the Rights of Men "based on her reaction to the French Revolution. This essay influenced her famous feminist social study "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," which she wrote two years later.

Wollstonecraft experienced two romantic affairs and gave birth to Fanny before falling in love with William Godwin. By November, 1796, she became pregnant with their only child, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Godwin and she were married in March of the following year. During the summer, she began writing "The Wrongs of Women: or Maria". Shelley was born on August 30 and Wollstonecraft died less than two weeks later. Godwin raised both Fanny and Mary surrounded by philosophers and poets, such as Coleridge and Lamb. He also taught Mary to read and spell her name by having her trace her mother's inscription on the stone.

With much of the independent spirit that drove her mother, Mary left home when she was 16 to live with her lover, Percy Shelley, who was unhappily married at the time. Society and even her father treated her as an outcast. This rejection influenced her writings greatly. Along with the suicide of Percy's wife and Mary's half-sister Fanny, her alienated status inspired her to write her greatest work, "Frankenstein."

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