Friends & Family

by John Opie, 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft was a well-known feminist during the Enlightenment and mother of Mary Shelley. In 1797 she married William Godwin because she was pregnant with Mary, also the year in which the above portrait was drawn. Mary Wollstonecraft died of birthing complications shortly after Mary Shelley was brought into the world. Wollstonecraft is also mother to Fanny Imlay, Mary Shelley's half-sister, and
daughter of Mr. Imlay.

by James Northcote, circa 1800
William Godwin
William Godwin was a philosopher, novelist, and poet, in addition to Mary Shelley's father. When Mary asked his permission to run off with her lover, Percy Shelley, he opposed this proposition, much to Mary's surprise. Mary assumed that she would have her father's support in the matter because of her own parents' relaxed views on love. She was inclined to follow her father's wishes, but after Percy threatened suicide, Mary rebelled against her father and society by running off with the love of her life.

By Aemilia Curran, circa 1819
Percy Shelley
Percy Shelley was still married to Harriet Shelley at the time he ran off with Mary Godwin. They rebelled against their family, peers, and "both were prepared to ignore the law of the land and the rules of society." After traveling together, they finally married on December 30, 1816. Percy Shelley was a renowned poet. "His actions were in some degree abnormal, dangerous to the settled basis of society, and remarked by headstrong and undutiful presumption."

By Aemilia Curran, 1819
Claire Clairmont
Claire Clairmont was Mary Shelley's half-sister, and the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Jane Clairmont, his second wife. Claire ran off with Mary and Percy when they traveled to Lake Geneva, and was present when Mary first made up the story of Frankenstein. She ended up in a love affair with Lord Byron, bearing his daughter, Allegra, in January 1817. Claire traveled often with Mary and Percy and spent much time with their family.

By Richard Westall, circa 1816
Lord Byron
Lord Byron was a renowned poet and good friend of Mary and Percy Shelley. He had an affair with Mary's half-sister, Claire Clairmont, resulting in their bastard child, Allegra. Byron was present during the infamous Lake Geneva vacation and accompanied the Shelley's on many travels.

William Shelley by Aemilia Curran, 1819
William, Clara, and Percy Florence Shelley
While traveling to Italy with Claire Clairmont in 1818, Mary and Percy Shelley brought their infant children, William and Clara. The two babies both soon passed away and the Shelley's third and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley, was born in 1819. The above portrait of William was painted weeks before his death.

By F. G. Gainsford, 1816
John Polidori
John Polidori was Lord Byron's personal doctor and traveling companion. Present for the contest at Lake Geneva when Mary Shelley first dreamed up the idea of Frankenstein, John Polidori also created a story. His work was the only other to be published (in addition to Shelley's Frankenstein). It was called The Vampyre and was published in 1819.
no image available
Harriet Shelley
Harriet (Westbrook) Shelley was Percy Shelley's first wife. While he was still married to her, he ran off with Mary Shelley, leaving Harriet pregnant and alone with their first child. She committed suicide on November 9, 1816 by drowning herself in Serpentine.
no image available
Fanny Imlay
Fanny Imlay was the half-sister of Mary Shelley and the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mr. Imlay. She committed suicide in October 1816, rumored to be hopelessly in love with Percy Shelley, her half-sister's future husband.


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