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Mary Shelley’s forgotten years in Harrow and the birth of ‘Frankenstein’

Mary Shelley, the brilliant mind behind “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus,” lived a life of immense creativity and literary accomplishment.

While her name is widely recognised for her iconic novel, not many people know about a significant phase of her life spent in our very own Harrow-on-the-Hill, a lesser-known yet crucial period in shaping her personal and literary journey.

In the summer of 1816, a young Mary Shelley embarked on a fateful journey to Switzerland, where she would meet the enigmatic Lord Byron. This extraordinary meeting, orchestrated by her stepsister Claire Clairmont, who was pregnant with Byron’s child, would set the stage for a literary revolution that would forever change the world.

As a schoolboy at Harrow, Lord Byron found inspiration in the most unexpected places. Lying on the table-top of John Peachey’s tomb in the churchyard, he composed his early poetry, immersing himself in the breathtaking views that stretched before him. This very spot would later become intertwined with Mary Shelley’s journey, as Harrow played an essential role in shaping the lives of both these literary giants.

Mary Shelley's forgotten years in Harrow and the birth of 'Frankenstein' Harrow Online
Portrait of Mary Shelley

Mary’s life took a dramatic turn when she ran away with the renowned poet Percy Bysshe Shelley during her teenage years. Seeking refuge in Switzerland, they found themselves in the company of Lord Byron, who would unknowingly plant the seeds for one of the most iconic works of literature ever written.

During their time in Switzerland, Lord Byron playfully suggested a competition among friends to craft the spookiest story. Little did they know that this challenge would spark the creation of Mary Shelley’s magnum opus, “Frankenstein.” Inspired by the haunting landscapes and a series of conversations about science, life, and human ambition, Mary crafted a tale that delved into the depths of human nature and the consequences of playing god.

Amidst the trials and tribulations of her life, Mary Shelley’s years in Harrow-on-the-Hill hold a profound significance. It was here that the foundation for her literary masterpiece was laid, where her encounters with Lord Byron and Percy Shelley would shape her creative genius.

As we delve into the lesser-known aspects of Mary Shelley’s life, we uncover the mysteries behind her years in Harrow and the events that led to the birth of “Frankenstein.” The profound impact of these experiences would go on to shape the course of literature, leaving an enduring legacy that continues to captivate readers and scholars alike.

Mary Shelley's forgotten years in Harrow and the birth of 'Frankenstein' Harrow Online

In 1833, Mary Shelley made a move to Harrow. This decision was motivated by her deep commitment to providing her son, Percy Florence Shelley, with an excellent education at the renowned Harrow School. Despite facing financial challenges, she was determined to prioritise her son’s future and create a stable environment for him to thrive.

During her time in Harrow, Mary Shelley found solace in her writing amidst life’s difficulties. In particular, she embarked on the creation of the two-volume “Rambles in Germany and Italy, in 1840, 1842, and 1843” (1844), a work that beautifully intertwined her unique perspective on travel with Romantic ideals and social commentaries.

Although not as well-known as her other works, this travel memoir revealed her passion for reformist ideas and added depth to her literary repertoire.

The passing of Sir Timothy Shelley in 1844 brought some financial relief, allowing Mary Shelley and Percy Florence Shelley to experience a sense of stability for the first time since Percy Bysshe Shelley’s death.

This newfound security enabled her to dedicate more time to her literary pursuits, free from the constant burden of financial worries.

Despite facing personal and health challenges, Mary Shelley found joy and contentment with the marriage of her son Percy Florence Shelley to Jane Gibson St John in 1848. This new domestic circle provided her with the support and love she longed for, making her later years in Harrow all the more meaningful.

Unfortunately, not many people are aware of the significant role Harrow-on-the-Hill played in Mary Shelley’s life. Her time in this picturesque part of our borough not only influenced her literary works but also showcased her resilience and dedication to her family’s well-being.

As we celebrate Mary Shelley’s literary legacy, it is essential to remember the lesser-known aspects of her life, including her years in Harrow. This period provided her with the stability and inspiration she needed to contribute masterpieces to the world of literature, leaving an indelible mark on the Romantic and Gothic genres.