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Why Famed Frankenstein Novelist Mary Shelley Carried A Human Heart With Her Everywhere

The iconic writer had a macabre practice of keeping a human organ in her possession

Andrew Martin
4 min readSep 24, 2023

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English novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley cemented her status as an iconic writer with her epic novel Frankenstein (Frankenstein; or. The Modern Prometheus). The gothic tale was an early example of the science fiction genre and has sent ripples of terror through generations of readers over the years. Besides her writing material, she was no stranger to the dark and macabre, as an object she carried with her everywhere for years was an actual human heart.

Born in 1797, she was raised by her father (political philospher William Godwin) when her mother (Feminist philospher Mary Wollstonecraft) died just days after giving birth to her. Although she lacked much in the way of formal school education, the girl had the luxury of regular tutors, a governess and the ability to travel and experience things extensively.

At the age of 16 Mary began a relationship with the married 21-year-old Percy Bysshe Shelley, a poet and philosopher, in addition to being an acquaintance of her father. The couple fell in love and married in 1816 just before the birth of their second child William (the first child, a girl, died just 10 days after birth) and after the suicide of his wife Harriet.

While Shelley and Mary are believed to have had an open relationship, the two had a very close bond. Since he was often in debt and had to go into hiding to evade creditors, the couple often endured periods of time apart.

Mary wrote Frankenstein when she was only 18, and saw it published in 1818. Originally, it was meant as her entry to a writing competition between friends (her husband suggested everyone around a summer night fire each write a scary story), but once the complexity and skill of the novel spread, it became clear it was intended for bigger things.

The inspiration for Frankenstein came from a dream she had in combination with her interest in reanimation in the wake of having lost her first child. She later explained how the idea came to her:

“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the…

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Andrew Martin

Dabbler in history, investing & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about history, diversity, culture, sports, investing and crypto.