Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley [née Godwin] (1797–1851)

We do not enter into society here, yet our time passes swiftly and delightfully. We read Latin and Italian during the heats of noon, and when the sun declines we walk in the garden of the hotel, looking at the rabbits, relieving fallen cockchaffers, and watching the motions of a myriad of lizards, who inhabit a southern wall of the garden. You know that we have just escaped from the gloom of winter and of London; and coming to this delightful spot during this divine weather, I feel as happy as a new-fledged bird, and hardly care what twig I fly to, so that I may try my new-found wings.

Mary Shelley
History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of
France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland (1817)
Letter from Geneva, 17 May 1816


Although Mary Shelley’s fame rests in her authorship of Frankenstein, published anonymously when she was twenty-one, her experiences and her publications were rich and varied. Mary Shelley’s mother Mary Wollstonecraft, was a feminist philosopher who died shortly after her daughter’s birth. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Mary also became a liberal feminist. She had an affair with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the two eventually married, following the death of Percy’s first wife. Mary Shelley edited some of her husband’s works, and the two also composed pieces together. She also penned short stories, travelogues, and biographies.

The Armstrong Browning Library houses the Browning Library Collection—books and periodicals which were actually owned by Robert and/or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or members of their immediate family. The ABL holds approximately one-third of 2,681 items currently listed in this category in The Brownings: A Research Guide. In an effort to recreate the library owned by the Brownings, the Armstrong Browning Library initiated the Browning Library Copies Collection. These are books which, based on the most complete information available, are the same editions as the volumes once owned and used by the Brownings.

Three books, added to the Armstrong Browning Library collection in 2011, were closely associated with Mary Shelley. All are part of the Browning Library Copies Collection. The library purchased Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), written by William Godwin, about his wife Mary Wollstonecraft; History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland (1817) written by Mary Shelley, Godwin and Wollstonecraft’s daughter; and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Posthumous Poems (1824), compiled by Mary Shelley.

The quotation above is taken from Mary Shelley’s travelogue, History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland (1817).

 Melinda Creech

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