19th Century female authors were often linked to romantic fiction, but Mary Ann Evans and Mary Shelley were two exceptions.
Mary Ann Evans (1819–1890) is usually known as George Eliot, author of The Mill of the Floss (1860) and Silas Marner (1861). She used a man’s name hoping to avoid stereotypes and be taken seriously as a writer. She also used a pen name to protect her “scandalous” private life from the public eye. Victorian society was very moralistic and didn’t approve of Mary living with a married man. Her unorthodox lifestyle made her a social outcast but also gave her a wide experience of life which she used in her writing. Her female characters were realistic, independent and had a psychological depth which was unusual at the time. She understood much of human nature and received letters from readers asking for advice on how to live their lives. Both Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria herself were great fans of her work.
Mary Shelley (1797–1851) is another female writer who went against social conventions. She was born into an intellectual family in 1797 where she learnt about politics, philosophy and feminism. When she was still a teenager she married the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. While the couple were staying with fellow Romantic poet, Lord Byron, in Switzerland, she wrote her first and most famous work Frankenstein (1818). It was published when she was 20 years old. Mary’s life with Shelley was full of scandal and tragedy. Only one of the couple’s four children survived and, when Mary was 25, her husband drowned in the sea in Italy. With no money and no one to take care of her she was forced to write full time to survive. Despite her difficult life, she was not only one of the greatest writers of the 19th century but also introduced the world to a new literary genre: science fiction. Another female author in a male author’s world.