How Frankenstein was Born- Mary Shelley’s Brilliant, Famous, Tragic Parents

Katlyn Roberts
16 min readOct 11, 2022

Inventing the Sci-Fi genre at age 18 required a radical upbringing.

The parents of Marry Godwin Wollstonecraft Shelley. Left- William Godwin courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Right- Mary Wollstonecraft courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This all started because my sister bought me a stunning, green and gold-leafed, vintage-inspired copy of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman for my birthday. With whispers in the press of Roe v. Wade about to be overturned, the topic felt timely. But I didn’t even get past the forward before having my mind thoroughly blown.

In it, I read that Wollstonecraft, arguably one of the first true Western feminists as we define the term today, was the mother of Mary Shelly, the 18-year-old author of Frankenstein and founder of the genre of science fiction.

I hadn’t known they were related.

…Maybe you knew that, but I didn’t.

And BOOM! goes the hyper-fixation. Because when you think about it — really consider the circumstances and the topics and philosophies at play here — it makes so much sense.

Wollstonecraft, the first woman in the Western world to publish such radical ideas as, “I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves”, and, “All the sacred rights of humanity are violated by insisting on blind obedience”, was villainized after her death in 1796. A commentator even insisted, rather overdramatically, that Wollstonecraft’s life and works be read,

“With disgust by every female who has any pretensions of delicacy; with detestation by everyone attached to the interests of religion and morality, and with indignation by anyone who might feel any regard for the unhappy woman, whose frailties should have been buried in oblivion.”

Yeesh. What a thing to say at the tragic death of a woman who’s just died in childbirth. But take a look at that word choice- “disgust”, “detestation”, “indignation”. Now imagine that baby girl growing up reading these things about a mother she never got to know.

Unknown woman, formerly known as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by Samuel John Stump. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Godwin Wollstonecraft

Katlyn Roberts

Katlyn writes about history, travel, and culture… with some snark.