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The early adulthood of 19th century wild-child Mary Shelley was the stuff of romance novels, culminating in the creation of English-language Science Fiction genre with her classic “Frankenstein”. She would later go on to be the driving force behind the popularization of her husband Percy’s poetry, as well as being a pioneer of post-apocalyptic fiction (through her 1826 novel “The Last Man”). The following write-up is for Mary at age 18, when she is just about to create the now iconic figures of Victor Frankenstein and his Creature.

Shelley Easton

Mary Shelley (June 16, 1816)

Scandalous daughter of radical authors, and future creator of “Frankenstein”

Full Name: Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
Aliases: Mary Godwin, Mary Shelley (often used, although she is not yet Percy Shelley’s legal wife), Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (future)
Class: Everywoman
Level: 2
Appearance/Most Memorable Characteristic(s): An exceptionally pale young woman with light brown hair and hazel eyes. She prefers loose clothing in light colors. Her emotions are very restrained. Those who knew Mary Wollstonecraft will note how much young Mary’s manner reminds them of her mother.
Age: 18

Charisma: 10 Intelligence: 14 Wisdom: 12
Strength: 9 Dexterity: 10 Constitution: 9
Perversity: 10
Assets: Occult Knowledge, Historical Knowledge, True Love (Percy Shelley)
Afflictions: Scandalous, Prone to Melancholy

Speed: 9
Hit Points: 12
Attacks: 1 improvised weapon
Damage Bonus: +1

Special Abilities: Profession: Writer | Avocation: Writer  | Affection (+1): William Godwin (her father, although the two are currently estranged) | Social Contacts: William Godwin (father, radical author); Samuel Coleridge (author, family friend); Charles Lamb (author, family friend); Lady Margaret King, Countess of Mount Cashell (family friend, former pupil of Mary’s mother); Percy Shelley (poet, lover); Jane “Claire” Clairmont (step-sister); Thomas Jefferson Hogg (barrister, Percy’s friend, and briefly a secondary lover); Thomas Love Peacock (author); Lord Byron (poet, recent acquaintance; Doctor John Polidori (physician, recent acquaintance) (Note that because her Profession and Avocation are both “Writer”, Mary gets a special +3 Bonus on relevant Ability Checks).
Weaknesses: Phobia: Ridicule | Prejudice: High Society (despite the fact that Percy was born an aristocrat!)

Typical Equipment Carried: Loose white dress, reticule (with journal and pencil)
Residence: A cottage near the Villa Diodati, the house rented by Lord Byron on the shore of Lake Geneva.

Background:

  • August 30, 1797: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born to Mary Wollstonecraft and radical author William Godwin, in Somers Town of north London. Mary Wollstonecraft was operated upon by a surgeon due to complications from the delivery, and developed a serious infection.
  • September 10, 1797: Mary Wollstonecraft died from septicemia.
  • December 21, 1801: William Godwin married Mary Jane Clairmont, who became Mary’s stepmother. Mary Jane’s illegitimate children, Charles and Jane, joined the household with Mary and her half-sister Fanny (Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter by her lover Gilbert Imlay). Young Mary grew to intensely dislike her stepmother.
  • November 11, 1812: Mary first met poet, atheist, and anti-monarchist Percy Shelley, who had come to her house to meet his political idol, William Godwin.
  • May 5, 1814: Mary met Percy Shelley again. Percy, whose father was a wealthy Baronet, had come to finalize a loan to cover William Godwins’ extensive debts. Mary and Percy fell in love, and contrived regular meeting thereafter. Unfortunately, Percy was already married.
  • June 26, 1814: Mary and Percy made love for the first time at her mother’s grave.
  • July 28, 1814: Forbidden from seeing each other any more by Mary’s father, Mary and Percy ran away together to France. Mary’s stepsister Jane asked to accompany them. Since neither Mary or Percy spoke French (but Jane did), they agreed to take her. Percy eventually wrote to his wife and asked her to join him and Mary in a ménage à trois, but she refused. Rapidly burning through their money, Mary and Percy traveled through France to Switzerland, and took a boat-ride up the Rhine.
  • September 2, 1814: During their Rhine journey Mary and Percy spent a night in Gernsheim, close to the ruined Castle Frankenstein.
  • September 13, 1814: Completely broke, Mary and Percy arrived back in London. Mary’s stepsister Jane continued living with them, and began using the name “Clara”, or “Claire”. Mary experienced social ostracism due to living openly with Percy.
  • November, 1815: Percy began encouraging Mary and his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg to become lovers.
  • February 22, 1815: Mary gave birth to a daughter, two-months premature.
  • March 6, 1815: Mary found her baby daughter dead in her crib.
  • March 13, 1815: Mary recorded in her journal that she dreamed her dead baby had been revived.
  • January 24, 1816: Mary gave birth to a son, William.
  • May 2, 1816: Claiming to have become Lord’s Byron‘s mistress, Claire convinced Mary and Percy to accompany her to Switzerland to meet the famous poet. Unbeknownst to the couple, she had also told Byron that she and Percy were lovers, and had insinuated in a letter that Mary might be sexually available as well.
  • May 27, 1816: Mary, Percy, William, and Claire met up with Lord Byron at a hotel outside Geneva. Byron was initially displeased that Claire had followed him to Switzerland, but later took advantage of the situation in his usual manner.
  • June 1, 1816: Mary and Percy rented a small cottage on the shore of Lake Geneva, where they resided with William and Claire.
  • June 10, 1816: Lord Byron and his physician John Polidori moved into a villa ten minutes away from Mary and Percy’s cottage. The group began spending their days together.
  • June 16, 1816: After a sudden storm forced them all inside the Byron’s Villa Diodati, the group began reading aloud from a collection of ghost stories. Byron proposed that each create their own ghost story to tell the group.

Personality and Role-Playing Notes:

Contrary to her scandalous reputation in England as a shameless slut and enthusiastic home-wrecker, Mary’s demeanor is strikingly controlled and intellectual. She can even come across as “cold”. In fact she often suffers from deep melancholy that she does her best to hide. Mary still grieves the death of her first child, although she will not speak of her. Although she often seems overly serious, and fears being personally ridiculed, Mary actually possesses a good sense of humor. She is always conscious of being the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, and feels an obligation to live up to what she thinks would have been her mother’s expectations for her. At the same time, she feels guilty for having been indirectly the cause of her mother’s death. Mary is also deeply troubled by her current estrangement from her father. Mary will be vocal in her support of Free Love, the overthrow of monarchies, reforming the criminal justice system, educating the lower class, abolishing slavery, and equality for women. She (and Percy) make a point of never using sugar, because it is produced by slaves in the Caribbean. Above all, Mary will never let any statement supporting the existing social order go unanswered!

Mary Shelley in Your Game:

The Player Characters might be among the guests caught up in the intrigues, debates, and antics at the Villa Diodati during the stormy week of June 16th. With her obvious occult interests, Mary will be particularly keen to speak any Magicians or Mad Scientists she might encounter! It is possible that one of the PCs tells a story, or makes a remark, that inspires Mary’s future literary output. The Presenter should always explore themes of “Frankenstein” whenever PCs interact with Mary – death, immortality, responsibility towards one’s creations, guilt, rejection, social justice, and the limits of science. Mary might be encouraged by Percy to take a Player Character as a lover, just as he had encouraged Mary and his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg. It should be remembered that Mary’s five-month-old son William is with her, and she will not be able to go off on an adventure by herself, unless she leaves the boy with Claire, or one of Byron‘s servants.

Note: Different sources give conflicting dates for the chronology of events around the writing of “Frankenstein”, and disagree about how licentious the activities of that summer were. You should naturally present them in whatever way makes the best Gothic story!

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