Novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley (1797-1851) was born on this day in London, England and was called a "child of light" by her father, political philosopher William Godwin. Her mother, pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, died in childbirth.
"Nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose," she once said. "A point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye."
Called "a woman of exceptional courage and determination" by biographer Miranda Seymour, Mary lived a full and passionate life. At age 16, she scandalized London by running away with the then-married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
At age 18, she wrote her horror novel Frankenstein (1818), history's terrifying monster, during a stormy summer at renowned poet Lord Byron's villa in the Swiss Alps.
She described Frankenstein's monster as "the hideous phantasm of a man." Upon publication, the book became an instant bestseller and Gothic classic. "No man chooses evil because it is evil," she wrote. "He only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks."
Literary success could not stop tragedy from following Mary and Percy Shelley. Their marriage was marked by miscarriages, Mary's mental breakdown, and Percy's drowning at age 30. The spirit of sadness and isolation flowed like black ink from her pen. She said, "I have ever defended women when oppressed."