December 30

This Day in History

Literary

Dec 30, 1816:

Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin wed

On this day, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin wed. The pair had run away together in July 1814, but because Shelley was already married they were unable to marry for two years, until the death of Shelley's wife.

Shelley, the heir to his wealthy grandfather's estate, was expelled from Oxford when he refused to acknowledge authorship of a controversial essay. He eloped with his first wife, Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a tavern owner, in 1811. However, just a few years later Shelley fell in love with the young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of a prominent reformer and an early feminist writer. Shelley and Godwin fled to Europe and married in 1816.

Shelley's inheritance did not pay all the bills, and the couple spent much of their married life abroad, fleeing Shelley's creditors. While living in Geneva, the Shelleys and their dear friend Lord Byron challenged each other to write a compelling ghost story. Only Mary Shelley finished hers and later published the story as Frankenstein.

The Shelleys had five children, but only one lived to adulthood. After Shelley drowned in a sailing accident when Mary was only 24, she edited two volumes of his works. She lived on a small stipend from her father-in-law, Lord Shelley, until her surviving son inherited his fortune and title in 1844. She died at the age of 53. Although she was a respected writer for many years, only Frankenstein and her journals are still widely read.

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