The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the ardent feminist and author of A Vindication on the Right of Women, and William Goodwin, the radical-anarchist philosopher and author of Lives of the Necromancers, Mary Goodwin was born into a free-thinking, revolutionary household in London on August 30, 1797. Educated mainly by her intellectual surroundings, she had little formal schooling, and at age sixteen, she eloped with the young poet Percy Bysshe Shelly; they eventually married in 1816.
Mary Shelly's life had many tragic elements: her mother died giving birth to Mary; her half-sister committed suicide; Percy's wife Harriet Shelly drowned herself and her unborn child after he ran off with Mary; William Goodwin disowned Mary and Shelly after the elopement but, heavily in debt, recanted and came to them for money; Mary's first child died soon after its birth; and in 1822 Percy Shelly drowned in the Gulf of La Spezia—Mary was not quite twenty-five then.
Mary did not begin to write seriously until the summer of 1816, when she and Shelly were living in Switzerland, neighbors to Lord Byron. One night following a contest to compose ghost stories, Mary conceived her masterpiece, Frankenstein. After her husband's death, she continued to write, publishing Valperga, The Last Man, Ladore, and Faulkner between 1823 and 1837, in addition to editing Percy's works. In 1838 she began to work on his biography, but due to poor health she completed only a fragment.