Mother of Science-Fiction

Mary Shelley is credited with inventing the science-fiction genre in 1818 when she wrote Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus.

Defined in part by her parents, William Godwin, a political philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft, a philosopher and feminist, Mary Shelley was hugely gifted. She had an indelible impact on the future of science-fiction, when she wrote Frankenstein at the age of only nineteen.

Her life was almost a novel in itself. She is well-known for her relationship with romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a man she married after the suicide of his first wife via drowning. She then tragically lost him, in a cruel twist, also to drowning in an accident in 1822.

mary shelley

Although less well known than Frankenstein, Mary Shelley wrote multiple novels, including another influential science-fiction piece.

The Last Man was written in 1826. A dystopian novel, set in a plague-ridden future (the 21st century, in fact), it was also an almost autobiographical portrait of her close circle of acquaintances.

Although we are now practically tripping over dystopian fiction, this was not always the case. Shelley based her novel on a French poem, thought to be the first speculative fiction to depict this kind of end of the world. She helped blaze the sci-fi trail in more ways than most people realise.

The main protagonist, Lionel Verney (The Last Man) is said to be autobiographical. The utopian Adrian, Earl of Windsor, who leads his followers in a search for paradise, only to die when his boat sinks is a storm, is obviously based on her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Another character is based on Lord Byron, and there is a lot that could be unpicked from the depictions to help open a window into the mind of the notorious mother of science-fiction.

lastman

For now, without spending the time this novel deserves to understand it fully, my main take away is to be slightly mind-blown by how much we owe Mary Shelley. And to wish I had more time to read.

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