In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein review – a life after deaths

Fiona Sampson’s vibrant, incident-packed biography of the novelist is haunted by all the people she lost

Mary Shelley was born at 20 minutes to midnight on 30 August 1797, at the top of a house in the Polygon, Somers Town, an aspirational address before the arrival of the railway, after which it became a notorious London slum. A healthy baby, no sooner had she arrived than her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, sent a message to her husband, the radical writer William Godwin, at work in rooms nearby, to come and meet his new child. Wollstonecraft, the author of The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, did not hold with long confinements; the introductions having been made, she intended to rest only for a few more hours. The following evening, she planned to join him for dinner as usual.

Back at home, however, Godwin found himself waiting and waiting downstairs. All was ...