Bath’s House of Frankenstein, the world-first attraction dedicated to Mary Shelley, celebrates its one-year anniversary on 19 July. To mark the occasion, Chris Harris, the co-founder and director offers in-depth insight into the life of Mary Shelley, including interesting and unknown facts about her. 

Mary Shelley (Image courtesy of Bath's House of Frankenstein)

Mary Shelley (Image courtesy of Bath's House of Frankenstein)

1. She was the daughter of genius radical activist Mary Wollstonecraft and philosopher and political writer William Godwin. Sadly Mary never knew her mother, who died shortly after giving birth from a bacterial infection of the reproductive tract caused by the unwashed hands of the surgeon who delivered the baby. The circumstances of her mother’s death profoundly affected Mary throughout her life and influenced much of her writing, especially the ”birth” of the Monster in Frankenstein - a scene more reminiscent of death than the beginning life.

2. When Mary was four, her father married his next-door neighbour Mary Jane Clairemont. Mary Jane brought her own two young children, Claire and Charles, into the union. Claire and Mary developed a close but extremely complex sibling relationship. “She has been the bane of my life”, Mary later wrote, largely because Claire regularly slept with Mary’s husband, the romantic poet Percy Shelley, throughout the marriage.

3. Mary had a keen interest in science and at fourteen would regularly attend lectures at the Royal Institute. She was especially fascinated by galvanism, the belief that electricity could be used to bring a dead body back to life, later acknowledging that galvanism played a significant part of the inspiration for Frankenstein.

4. Mary was also a fan of phantasmagoria performances, a type of visual horror entertainment. In many shows the use of special effects and emotional manipulation were used. Performances were often quite challenging with unsuspecting audience members secretly drugged with narcotics to enhance the terrifying experience.

5. At sixteen Mary began an affair with the poet Percy Shelley, despite the fact that Percy’s wife Harriet was expecting their second child. They spent a good deal of their clandestine courtship at Mary’s mother’s graveside where Mary quickly fell pregnant.

6. Tragically, Mary gave birth prematurely to a daughter, Clara, who died within a couple of days. The loss of Clara induced a deep and lasting depression in Mary, who was haunted by visions of the baby, which heavily influenced the genesis of Frankenstein.

7. In 1816, Mary, Percy and Claire, along with the outrageous poet Lord Byron found themselves at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. Here the party entertained themselves with brandy, laudanum and a book of ghost stories, and where Byron challenged the group to a writing competition. For several days Mary struggled to find inspiration until late one night the idea came to her in what she later described as a “waking dream”. Still deeply troubled by memories and nightmares of the loss of her baby girl, a passion for the supernatural, and inspired by the principals of galvanism, the first fragments of the world’s most famous monster were conceived. After Geneva Mary travelled to Bath, England where she continued to work on Frankenstein. The novel was published in 1818 when Mary was twenty, and is now regarded as one of the most important books in English literature.

Tickets to the House of Frankenstein are available from

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