Mary Shelley After Frankenstein

Mary Shelley
by Richard Rothwell, 1839-40

In the years after Percy Shelley's death in 1822, Mary Shelley went through a self-identification crisis. Did she later conform to the ways of the proper lady after all?

Mary's defiant behavior in her late-teens and early-twenties thrust her from society's inner-circle. Her father, William Godwin, completely dismissed Mary and claimed that "he did not know her very well," according to historian Mary Poovey. However, Mary was not phased by his views or the pressures of society to conform, and she did as she pleased, running of with Percy Shelley.

However, after his death, Mary's foundation crumbled. She had gone through the death of a child and two suicides in her family, her father ended all communication with Mary, and she seemed very much alone in the world. At this point in time, Mary felt it was time for a social makeover.

To do this, Mary Shelley used her authority as an author to change people's perception of herself. Her last three novels, Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837), all have "thinly disguised autobiographical characterizations of herself as a docile, domestic heroine," and because of this, she was able to "court the approval of a middle-class, largely female audience" (Poovey 117).

In a 1838 journal entry, Mary wrote phrases such as, "I am not a person of opinions," "I am not for violent extremes," and "I am far from making up my mind." It almost seems an oxymoron that Mary Shelley is saying this about herself. Clearly, she was one of the most progressive female thinkers of her era. Why would she claim not to have opinions or that she was indecisive? She was attempting to persuade herself into being the proper lady.

Mary Shelley was caught in a trap. "On the one hand, she repeatedly bowed to the conventional prejudice against aggressive women by apologizing for or punishing her self-assertion.... On the other hand,...Mary Shelley demonstrated that imaginative self-expression was for her an important vehicle for proving her worth and, in that sense, defining herself." (Poovey 115).

One could infer that Mary possibly regretted her early life full of spontaneity and rebellion. However, when reading Mary's journal entries before 1822, it seems like Mary could be in no happier place in her life. However, once she was left to face life on her own, Mary clearly struggled to live up to society's expectations, and she fought an inner-battle over how she would present herself to the world.


Copyright 2002: History 257 - Mount Holyoke College
This page was created by
Lindsay Theile.