SHELLEY, Mary (1797-1851)
Plaque erected in 2003 by English Heritage at 24 Chester Square, Belgravia, London SW1W 9HS, City of Westminster
MARY SHELLEY 1797-1851 Author of Frankenstein lived here 1846-1851
Mary Shelley lived at 24 Chester Square in Belgravia for the final five years of her life. These were her most prosperous years, having already written her masterpiece, Frankenstein, some 30 years ago.
Mary Shelley was born into a radical household. Her mother was the champion of women’s rights, Mary Wollstonecraft, and her father the political philosopher William Godwin. The young Mary was described by her father as ‘singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind’.
In 1814 she met the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and the couple were married in London two years later. Much of their life together was spent in Italy and Switzerland, and it was in Geneva, at the age of just 19, that she wrote her masterpiece, Frankenstein (published 1818). The novel is now one of the classics of English literature and the subject of numerous screen adaptations. After Percy’s death in a sailing accident in 1822, Mary returned to England, where she published other novels such as Perkin Warbeck (1830), Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837), and edited and helped to popularise her late husband’s works.
24 CHESTER SQUARE
Mary purchased number 24 in 1845 and moved in early the following year, becoming the house’s first resident. It was acquired in order to introduce her son Percy (1819–89) – the heir to the Shelley baronetcy and estates – into society, though Mary spent much of her time at the family’s country estate, Field Place in Sussex.
They had previously been living in Putney, where Mary had been ‘seized with a nervous rheumatism of a distressing kind’. Unfortunately Chester Square provided little in the way of respite. In August 1846 she wrote from a German spa town:
The very thought of that place makes me ill . . . if Chester Sq- were burned down I believe I should get well but it lies like a Million lb. weight round my neck.
Mary Shelley recovered her health and spirits sufficiently to restart work on a biography of her late husband, but further bouts of ill-health put paid to its completion. She died at Chester Square of a brain tumour in 1851.
A plaque was first suggested in 1975, but the house was then being used as a vicarage, and concerns were raised at the prospect of having the word Frankenstein ‘emblazoned’ on it, the preferred wording being ‘Author and Wife of the Poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley’. The Greater London Council refused to give way, and so the vicarage erected a private plaque instead. In 2003 this was replaced with an English Heritage blue plaque, which finally commemorated her as the ‘author of Frankenstein’.