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23-25 May 1997Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, as her names eloquently testify, was a child of the radical 1790s: her first major publication, A History of a Six Weeks Tour, evinces the impress of her mother's Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, and her second, Frankenstein, was influenced by and dedicated to her father. By the time she was thus marking these family continuities, however, she was already in close association with a second radical circle of the English Regency; and the famous Geneva summer of 1816, for most students of literary history, is now more often identified with Mary Shelley's first novel than with the writings of Byron and Shelley contemporary with it. The five years she subsequently spent in Italy broadened her sense of geography and history as well as literature, giving her a perspective rare among prominent female writers of the day. After Shelley's drowning and Byron's expedition to Greece and ensuing death Mary Shelley reentered the London literary world alone and on a different footing from where as an adolescent she had left it, as one of a circle of liberal writers centered around The New Monthly Magazine. She spent nearly three decades at the center of that literary world as Great Britain negotiated the profound transition between its Romantic and High Victorian cultures. Although she died prematurely in 1851 at the age of 53, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by birth, education, associations, and experience was virtually unique in the place she held through the shifting modes of her times. Her six novels, five volumes of biographical lives, two travel books, and her many short stories, essays, and reviews, not to mention her monumental editions of her Percy Bysshe Shelley's writings, reveal a writer of uncommon gifts and a thinker of consequence.
To celebrate the notable artistic and intellectual range of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, in terms of her own era and ours, the Keats-Shelley Association of America will host a two-and-a-half-day conference on May 23-25 of 1997, her bicentennial year. Among the categories to be explored will be: her debts to Wollstonecraft and Godwin; other influences from the 1790s; her relations with Shelley, Byron, and the "Satanic School"; her position in Regency culture; her representations of Italy, both as a classical, a medieval, and a modern culture; her place in the transitional literary scene of the 1820s; her later career in Victorian England; her politics; her uses of science and other contemporary thought; the genres of her writing; and her trajectory as a female writer.
Betty T. Bennett
College of Arts and Sciences