• CMTU History

Episode #9: In Search of Mary Shelley

Updated: Jan 9, 2019

My guest in Episode #9 of the Can't Make This Up History Podcast is Professor Fiona Sampson. Fiona is a leading British poet and writer who has authored 27 books, been published in 37 languages, and she has received numerous international awards in the US, India, Macedonia and Bosnia. In the U.K., She has been named a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by the Queen for her services to literature.


She joins me on the podcast to talk about her critically acclaimed biography, In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein which has received several significant accolades, including BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week as well Literary Non-fiction Book of the Year in the Times. In Search of Mary Shelley is a thoughtful biography that strives to find the real person behind the fame and iconic legacy who created a timeless character who is far more human than the Hollywood attempts to portray him.





Key Points in Today's Podcast

Some of the major topics I discuss with Fiona in this episode are:

  • Mary Shelley's childhood in a unique intellectual household

  • Her unorthodox romance with the aristocratic poet Percy Byshhe Shelley

  • The origins of Mary's monumental novel Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus

  • How Mary Shelley pushed the envelope of social convention to craft a literary career during her life and reshape the face of literature with her legacy.


Personal Reflections



When I first read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein a number of years ago, I expected the thoughtless shambling monster seen in the 1931 film above. I was significantly surprised, as I suspect many readers are when blindly picking up that book. I discovered a deep story that explores the very nature of what it means to be human and to become a person. I was similarly pleased to discover in Fiona's biography the portrait of a teenage girl and later a woman who I was not expecting to find. Despite somewhat privileged beginnings, Mary Shelley travelled an extremely difficult road throughout her life. She faced social ostracism, numerous deaths within her family, professional and personal rejection, an unfaithful husband, and the challenges of womanhood in the 19th century. Her perseverance and monumental accomplishments in literature in spite of every hardship was truly inspiring. Having grown up with a single working mom, I've seen firsthand the difficulty, long hours, and social challenges that women going it alone face. It was hard for my mom in the late 1900s; I can't imagine how hard it would be in the mid-1800s. All mothers, and in particular single mothers, deserve admiration, and I think Mary Shelley needs to be recognized for the leadership she demonstrated in her family on top of the praise she receives, deservedly, for her literary accomplishments. I am grateful that Fiona paved a way for readers today to discover this remarkable woman.

For the Ever Curious

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, consider checking out these resources:

Selected Books by Fiona Sampson


www.fionasampson.co.uk - Fiona's website offers her biography, a complete listing of her many publications, up-to-date news on her current and upcoming media appearances, and links to some of the many reviews her work has received.


Selected Works by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein, 1931 - Starring Boris Karloff in the role of Dr. Frankenstein's monster, this film takes several liberties with Mary Shelley's character yet retains its place as a horror classic and deserving of a significant place in the history of cinema.


A History of the 1815 Eruption of Mount Tambora, Age of Victoria Podcast - Professor Sampson mentioned the Year without a Summer that plunged Europe into a year of darkness and abnormal weather. This was the result of a global climate event stemming from a volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Check out the Age of Victoria Podcast for an in depth look at this catastrophic event.


Listen to In Search of Mary Shelley with Fiona Sampson on Podbean:


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