This Is Where Mary Shelley Is Buried

Aside from having arguably the most Victorian-sounding name of all time, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley left behind an intriguing legacy as a pioneering feminist figure in literature. Her magnum opus, "Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus," published in 1818, not only became a staple of gothic literature but also paved the way for the modern science fiction genre as we know it.

Mary Shelley's personal life, much like the characters in her tales, was mired in tragedy and sorrow from the outset. Her mother, renowned feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, died from complications that arose through childbirth, which we can only suppose fostered Shelley's affinity for the macabre and morose (via London Remembers).

Mary Shelley was drawn to her mother's resting place throughout her life, even reputedly losing her virginity there after professing her love to her future husband Percey Shelly. Despite such brief respites from tragedy, Shelley would go on to see three of her four children, her husband, and many of her contemporaries, including Lord Byron, perish before her.

Death never seemed to stray too far from Mary Shelley's doorstep. Yet even the most anguished and restless minds must one day find peace. So, where exactly was Mary Shelley's final resting place?

Mary Shelley's Final Act

Although Mary Shelley achieved modest success during her lifetime, her latter years were tumultuous and troubling. According to The Washington Post, by the 1840s, Mary Shelley had returned to England and was afflicted by frequent maladies and financial difficulties, even struggling to afford firewood at one point.

Shelley first complained in 1843 of a "pressure on the brain" in a series of letters to her step-sister, Claire Claremont. Tragically, Shelley would only survive another eight years before succumbing to an untreated brain tumor in 1851, at the age of 53. Shelley, despite recurrent migraines, speech impairments, and eventual paralysis, did not seek medical attention until it was too late (per The Washington Post).

In a spectacularly goth fashion, Shelley's surviving family and friends discovered that she had carefully wrapped her late husband's heart in poetry and silk and kept it in the desk drawer (per "Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality" by Emily Sunstein). The fact that Percey Shelley's calcified heart stayed intact while being incinerated only adds to the eerie situation (via The New York Times).

When the news of her death broke, several periodicals, somewhat infuriatingly, commemorated her primarily as Percey Shelley's widow, rather than lauding her contributions to Romantic-era literature (via ”Mary Shelly: Romance and Reality”). Thankfully, in the century or so since, much has changed, and Mary Shelley's reputation has received its due. However, much like her legacy during her lifetime, deciding where to bury Mary Shelley's remains would also be complicated.

Where Mary Shelley Lies Today

Per her wishes, Mary Shelley expressed a strong desire to be buried beside her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and her late father, William Godwin. Her sole surviving son, Percy Florence, and his wife, Jane a.k.a. "Lady Shelley" had other plans. Shelley's parents were buried in St. Pancras Church in London, but this would simply not suffice for her surviving heirs.

According to ”Mary Shelley” by Miranda Seymour, the tranquillity of this original gravesite had been desecrated by the construction of railway lines nearby. As Jane herself remarked, ”it would have broken my heart to let her loveliness wither in such a dreadful place.” As such, the skeletal remains of Shelley's parents were exhumed in a nocturnal excavation and transported by carriage to Bournemouth for burial.

Initially, the plan was to bury Mary and her parents at St. Peter's Churchyard in Bournemouth. However, the church's vicar expressed resistance and refused to bury the three bodies. Remarkably, Lady Shelley refused to take no for an answer and sat before the locked iron gates, coffins in tow, determined to break the pastor's will in a game of chicken (via ”Mary Shelly: Romance and Reality”).

Fearing a scandal from refusing to bury the Shelley family, the reverend relented and Mary Shelley and her parents were laid to rest under the cover of darkness, where they remain today. Interestingly, church authorities refused to inscribe "Author of Frankenstein" on her headstone, so it reads: "Daughter of William & Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin And Widow of the Late Percy Bysshe Shelley" (per Find A Grave). Even in death, Mary Shelley couldn't escape the shadows of her loved ones.