Did Mary Shelley Write Frankenstein?

A book coming out next month, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein, by independent scholar John Lauritsen, argues that Mary Shelley did not write Frankenstein. Instead, Lauritsen argues, the credit should go to her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Why? For one, Lauritsen suggests Mary was too young and inexperienced as a writer to have penned a classic like Frankenstein. (She was nineteen at the time.) Lauritsen also suggests that the language of Frankenstein sounds like something Percy would have written. The Sunday Times reports:
He says some of the language, with lines such as "I will glut the maw of death", were pure Shelley, and that the young aristocrat wrote a handful of fashionable horror tales that echo the later tone of Frankenstein. Lauritsen said Shelley had many reasons to disguise his authorship, including hints of "free love" that had already driven him out of England and an undertone of "Romantic, but I would not say gay, male love". Another factor may have been the critics, who hated it. The Quarterly Review of 1818 said the story of Frankenstein, the Swiss scientist who creates a monster from body parts, only to see it run amok, was a "tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity".
Most literary critics aren't buying Lauritsen's argument. Germaine Greer, writing in The Guardian, argues that Mary Shelley must have written Frankenstein because a) the book is actually pretty badly written, as one would expect from a 19-year-old, and b) the underlying theme of the book is a very feminine one:
"The driving impulse of this incoherent tale is a nameless female dread, the dread of gestating a monster... Percy was capable perhaps of imagining such a nightmare, but it is the novel's blindness to its underlying theme that provides the strongest evidence that the spinner of the tale is a woman. It is not until the end of the novel that the monster can describe himself as an abortion. If women's attraction to the gothic genre is explained by the opportunity it offers for the embodiment of the amoral female subconscious, Frankenstein is the ultimate expression of the female gothic."
I'm inclined to believe that Mary Shelley is the true author of Frankenstein. But it is an interesting question to think about.


Posted on Mon Apr 16, 2007


There is no reason why she couldn't have been influenced by her husband. Me and my husband are both designers, and he influences me.

However, the argument that she had to have written it because the underlying theme is a feminine one is weak. Percy Bysshe Shelley was not exactly a manly man if you know what I mean. Besides the "underlying theme" can be interpreted in a myriad of different ways that could be applied to both male and female psyches.

I think she wrote it.
Posted by MadCarlotta  on  Tue Apr 17, 2007  at  08:43 AM
My opinion is that John Lauritsen desperately needs to get laid, and resents that he can't.
Posted by Terry Austin  on  Tue Apr 17, 2007  at  09:48 AM
This argument's popped up before, and people have also claimed that Branwell Bronte actually wrote Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The argument is usually along the lines that 'these books are highly intelligent, complex, passionate powerful books that deal with very dark themes, and women are soft, silly, sweet helpless little things so they couldn't have possibly written these books'. It's usually a man who claims this. If Mozart can compose a sympony at 9, I don't see why a very worldly-wise, intelligent woman of 19 can't write Frankenstein.
Posted by Nona  on  Tue Apr 17, 2007  at  11:29 AM
Exactly. It seems every time a woman is responsible for a great work of art/literature/whatever, some man has to come along eventually to explain to us all that it MUST have been a man who created it, since women just aren't capable of anything other than domestic work and baby making. It seems that some men are so insecure that any threat to the patriarchy panics them.

And it is already a well known literary fact that Percy rewrote and edited the book extensively, so the whole "it reads like his work" is pretty much a useless argument.
Posted by Fred  on  Tue Apr 17, 2007  at  08:03 PM
Louisa May Alcott wrote her first novel aged seventeen, and had her first work published aged 19.

Dorothy Hewitt had her first book of poems published aged 19.

Tillie Olsen and Nina Bouraoui both began their first novels aged nineteen.

I think Mr. Lauritsen is projecting his own teenage inadequacy a wee bit.
Posted by David B.  on  Wed Apr 18, 2007  at  05:02 PM
What's incomprehensible about Lauritson's argument is that Mary Shelley was the daughter of a radical author who ensured she had a top rate education. Furthermore, she was writing at least since was eleven. After hooking up with Percy Shelley, Mary continued to study literature under Percy's guidance. That she would aspire to write her own novel is entirely expected as would be her using many of Percy's references (many of which were, in turn, references to other authors.)

I suppose it's also important to note that she wrote additional books.
Posted by Joe  on  Thu Apr 19, 2007  at  12:13 PM
I wouldn't say it's that badly written. It's much, much better than Lovecraft.
Posted by dumb_n00b  on  Sun Apr 22, 2007  at  09:17 AM
Oh, I think it's a terrible book -- the only interesting chapter is the one in which the Monster comes to life. But I don't see any reason why Mary couldn't have written it, nor can I see any reason why she would want to take credit for someone else's work.
Posted by Kathleen  on  Tue Apr 24, 2007  at  01:33 PM
... i like Lovecraft... even if he was a racist homophobe
Posted by joodd  on  Wed Apr 25, 2007  at  01:05 AM
actually it seems like johnny lauritstein and Germaine Greer are wrong for the same reason. Johnny underestimates mary shelly because she is too young and therefore couldnt write such a classic novel, while germaine says percy couldnt write it becuase he has such a feminine theme and therefore couldnt have been written by a man.

it reminds of the guy who said that Shakespeare couldnt have written his plays, because he was too common
Posted by joodd  on  Wed Apr 25, 2007  at  01:11 AM
I bet Lauritsen laughs all the way to the bank.
Posted by Christopher Cole  on  Wed Apr 25, 2007  at  06:32 PM
he is so stupid omg he probably wasn't even thought of!!!! his mom and dad weren't either!!
Posted by Kayci  on  Wed Oct 03, 2007  at  02:05 PM
I loathe that book. She probably did write it though, crazy rich druggy.
Posted by Soph  on  Sun Apr 27, 2008  at  11:57 AM
lol to the above comment and yeah I do think she wrote it, it was just the thing with women at the time
Posted by Fsea  on  Fri Sep 04, 2009  at  07:29 PM
Oh, and Florence Nightingale was really a man, as were Jane Austen, Rosa Parks, and Boudicca- every woman who got out and actually did something with their lives! Lauritsen is a angry little man.
Posted by Rebs  on  Wed Nov 04, 2009  at  01:02 PM
The above comments are straw men. No one argued that women can't write. No one argued that women can't do great things. No one argued that a teenager can't spit out a novel if she has a great deal of editorial help.

People point out her age because they think it's at odds with the language and subject matter, and they suspect Percy's hand because of the language but mostly because practically no one remembers anything she wrote after he died.
Posted by Whahuh  on  Sun Apr 10, 2011  at  10:39 AM
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