Intellectual Influences and Education

Throughout her life, and especially in her childhood, Mary Shelley was surrounded by great intellectuals and scholars. She incorporated many theories and notions of radical progressives into Frankenstein, namely Rousseau and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, enhancing the value of the story and creating it into a hidden masterpiece.

Books which characters read in the novel include The Bible, comte de Volney's Ruins of the Empires, Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Parcelsus' Alchemistry.

Although Mary Shelley never had a formal education, she spent the majority of her time reading and studying on her own. In her journal entries, she religiously kept noted what she read everyday or what she and Percy Shelley read together. On Tuesday March 21, 1815 she wrote, "Talk, and then read Gibbon. Shelley reads Livy, and then reads Gibbon with me till dinner. After dinner play at chess and read. Peacock comes to tea. Work. After he goes away I read Gibbon (p. 275), and Shelley reads Livy (p. 406)." These entries changed from day to day, interchanging reading with taking a walk, traveling, or engaging in mealtime conversations with visitors.

Indicated in her journal entries between 1814-1828, Mary Shelley read enormous amount of literature including Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Milton, Plutarch, William Shakespeare, Homer, John Keats, and Thomas Moore. Amazingly, she read many of these works before she was seventeen, when she wrote Frankenstein.

It was not unusual that Mary Shelley did not receive a formal education. However, it no small accomplishment that she studied and read all of these authors so feverishly. Her self-education makes her a sort of "self-made woman." After reading the ideas and works of all of these great authors, primarily men, Mary then formulated her own theories and notions. It is significant to note that the only woman whose work Mary read was her own mother's, Mary Wollstonecraft. This shows how unusual it was for a woman to publish a work and to be well-educated.

Mary Shelley's self-education allowed her to be the creator of an intensely intellectual literary and historical masterpiece, the 1817 Frankenstein.


Copyright 2002: History 257 - Mount Holyoke College
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Lindsay Theile.