Today is Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's birthday. In so many ways, she seems so relevant for today. For one thing, she can tell a compelling story. my students have loved her deeply, even the non-English majors. Frankenstein teaches really well, even for non-majors (not many 19th century works can make this claim). I've had the most resistant readers lose themselves in Frankenstein--it still seems so relevant, whether it be in what it has to say about creativity, motherhood, science, God, or relationships in general.
The characters in the book are living lives of such isolation, and it makes sense when we think about Mary Shelley's life of abandonment: mother dead in giving birth to her, father preoccupied with new family, husband who will always be fascinated with others before an early death, dead babies, life on the run from creditors, . . . oh, Mary Shelley!
Her life still has much to teach us. I often wonder what she might have accomplished if she hadn't had so many family duties swallowing her up. I could argue that her creativity suffered in the service of her once more famous spouse Percy. In fact, when she published Frankenstein, many of her contemporaries wondered if Percy wrote it.I love that we live in a time period where we no longer have as fierce a fight in justifying that women and minorities can write as well as men. We forget that we haven't been living in this time period very long. I could make a solid argument that Mary Shelley wrote novels that were every bit as accomplished as those of Charles Dickens--I could probably make the case that her novels were stronger. I can say what I said about Molly Ivins without fear of sounding silly. Some forty years ago, I'd have had to fight a fiercer battle to prove that women were capable of writing anything of worth at all.
We're not where I want to be just yet. Sadly, we still live in an age where white males have an easier path to publication and making a living from one's creative output. Men are more likely to get the tenure track jobs at universities that will give them time to write. I'm fairly sure we'd find out that more men win book publication competitions than women--I know, I know, they're judged anonymously, so I can't prove any sort of bias. Well, not with the time constraints in my current life I can't. I'll leave that to intrepid exploring journalists, like the kind I fancied that I was while I was in undergraduate school.