Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and
Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication
of the Rights of Woman
Charles E. Robinson
We often forget that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was a biographer: she wrote lives of many eminent writers and scientists from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France for Dionysius Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia; and she undertook but never finished lives of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her father, William Godwin. We wish, of course, that she had written or at least sketched out a life of her mother. Had she done so, we would have had not only a window into the life and works of Mary Wollstonecraft but also a mirror by which to see Mary Shelley's own self-reflection in a biographical memoir of her mother. In one way, Mary Shelley herself was able to see some of that self-reflection in the John Opie portrait of her mother that hung over the mantle in the Godwin home: because Mary Wollstonecraft was pregnant with Mary Shelley when that portrait was taken in 1797, the daughter could witness her own effect on her mother.
Although Mary Shelley never directly knew her mother, she could at least experience Mary Wollstonecraft by means of indirect representations. The Opie portrait, for example, gave the daughter a sense of her
Notes are on pp. 137–38.