Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley née Godwin ( 1797–1851) was the daughter of philosopher and political writer William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Mary’s mother died less than a month after her birth, and her father raised her, providing her with a rich yet informal education steeped in his anarchist beliefs. In 1814, Mary eloped to t he continent with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, a married student of her father’s; when they returned, Mary was pregnant (the child died soon after birth) and for the next few years the couple faced societal ostracism and censure.
In 1816, Percy’s wife committed suicide, and the couple married soon after. More tragedy and death followed: of their four children, only the last survived into adulthood, and in 1822 Percy Shelley drowned in Italy while sailing during a storm.
Shelley published travel narratives, short stories, and several novels, including Frankenstein (1818), Valperga (1823), The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835), and Falkner (1837). The Last Man (1826)—a narrative set in the 21st century about the near-extinction of humanity due to plague—is the first English-language dystopian novel and, though critically savaged on publication, is now considered by many to be her best work. She also devoted her life to editing and promoting her late husband’s poetry and raising their son.