Mary was born in Somers Town, Great Britain, in 1797 to well-known parents: author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft
and philosopher and anarchist William Godwin
. Unfortunately, her mother died as a result of Mary's birth. Mary is therefore raised by her father and a much resented stepmother.
When Mary was sixteen she met the young poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a devotee of her father's teachings. Together with Mary's stepsister, they run off to continental Europe several times, not hindered by the fact that Percy was already married.
In 1816, they go abroad again, this time spending time with Byron and his friend Polidori in Geneva. There Byron suggested that they should all write a ghost story. Mary writes Frankenstein, the only story of the four that was ever to be published as a novel. Later that same year, Percy's wife drowned herself: Percy and Mary wed in December 1816.
The last years of married life were filled with disaster for Mary. Her half sister died as did two of her children. Mary became depressed, a tendency she probably inherited from her mother. She was only partly relieved by the birth of Percy, their only surviving child.
Mary and Percy eventually moved to Italy where Percy drowned during a sailing trip in 1822. Mary was determined to keep the memory of her late husband alive. She published several editions of Percy's writings and added notes and prefaces to them.
She also continued writing her own novels, arguably the most famous one being The Last Man (1826). This book deals with human isolation just as her earlier novel Frankenstein did. She wrote numerous short stories and contributed biographical and critical studies to the Cabinet Cyclopędia.
Mary spent the last years of her life in the loving company of her son and two good friends. She tried very hard to free herself from the strains put on her by being the daughter and wife of such well-known people. She maintained her liberal opinions but at the same time tried to fit into a more conservative society. She even wrote an apologia in her journal, which reveals the stresses of a life spent trying to measure up to the example, yet to escape the obloquy, of her parents and husband.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley died in 1851 at the age of fifty-three.