“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias, and who better to celebrate with than (arguably) the inventor of science fiction, whose most famous protagonist was the true monster of her famous Gothic horror novel.
Mary Shelley was raised by her anarchist father, after the death of her mother shortly after she was born. Shelley’s later struggles with fertility and child loss almost certainly inspired her explorations of breathing life into death. Her relationship with Percy Bysshe Shelley was both dramatic and controversial, but reader, she married him. It was of course on her holiday with Percy, the mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron, and John William Polidori, that she conceived the first wisps of Frankenstein and Polidori put together a little story about a vampyre, long before a certain Mr Stoker began his scribbles about a certain Mr Harker and his encounter with the undead.
Away from Frankenstein, Shelley’s work explored the role of women in the development of society and put forward a dystopian world where a sudden pandemic almost wipes out humanity in the 21st century…
Until the 1980s, Shelley was usually studied and written about as Percy’s wife – many students now refer to Percy Bysshe Shelley as Mary’s husband. She was censored and downplayed, her written work outside of Frankenstein was out of print for decades and most people’s first encounter with her are film adaptations showing Victor Frankenstein as a cackling scientist who revels in the creation which he runs from in the novel – the creature himself has morphed into a green skinned, lumbering and mindless monster with bolts through his neck.
There are complexities within the novel worthy of deeper appreciation and stories inspired by it such as Blood and Ice, which I saw performed by Leeds Arts Centre in 2017, and The Frankenstein Chronicles, explore the psychology of both the author and the science she created.
Shelley was one of, if not the original, writers of science fiction, a genre still dominated by men today. She wrote a novel where a man took the creation of life away from women into his own hands and was then repulsed by the results. She loved, she travelled, she wrote and she fought for her place in the world of literature, politics and men.
She shone a light into the darkness.
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