Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Author of ‘Frankenstein’

Mary Shelley's Blue Plaque

Mary Shelley’s Blue Plaque outside St Peter’s Church, Bournemouth

Few seaside towns can claim so many literary associations as Bournemouth. The remains of writer, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of one of the most famous of all Gothic horror novels – Frankenstein, is buried in the cemetery of St. Peters in the centre of the town.

Mary Shelley was born on the 30th August 1797, in Somers Town, London. She was the second daughter of feminist and writer Mary Wollstonecraft and political journalist William Godwin (who are also interred in her grave). Her mother died shortly after Mary’s birth from a hemorrhage  sustained either during delivery or by the actions of the midwife. Unusual for girls at the time, Mary received an excellent education. She published her first poem at the age of ten.

Percy Bysshe Shelley and his first wife Harriet often visited Godwin’s home and bookshop in London. At the age of 16 Mary eloped to France and then Switzerland with Shelley. During May of 1816, the couple travelled to Lake Geneva. Apparently inspired by a ghost tale contest among her friends, Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont Mary had what she called a waking dream that became the manuscript for her most famous work, entitled ‘Frankenstein’ or ‘The Modern Prometheus’.

It tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who tries to create a living being for the good of humanity but instead produces a monster.  Frankenstein creates his monster by assembling parts of dead bodies and activating the creature with electricity.  The monster, which has no name in the book, is actually a gentle, intelligent creature.  However, everyone fears and mistreats him because of his hideous appearance.  Frankenstein rejects the monster and refuses to create a mate for him.  The monster’s terrible loneliness drives him to seek revenge by murdering Frankenstein’s wife, brother, and best friend.  Frankenstein dies while trying to track down and kill the monster, who disappears into the Arctic at the end of the novel.

Frankenstein Poster

Film Posters for Universal Studios 1931 version of ‘Frankenstein’

Many films have been based on the character of Frankenstein’s monster, the most iconic being played by Boris Karloff in the Universal Studios 1931 version of the novel.  Most are simply tales of horror and have little to do with the serious themes of Shelley’s novel.  These themes include the possible dangers involved in scientific experimentation with life and the suffering caused by judging people by their appearance.

Mary and Shelley married in 1816 after Shelley’s first wife committed suicide by drowning. In 1818 the Shelleys left England for Italy. The Italian adventure was, however, blighted for Mary by the death of both her children Clara, in Venice and their son Will died from malaria in Rome.  Mary suffered a nervous breakdown after the death and almost died of a later miscarriage. It was followed by the birth of her only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. In July 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley sailed up the Italian coast and was caught in a storm on his return. He drowned on the 8th July along with his friend Edward Williams and a young boat attendant.

The Grave of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly

The Grave of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, St. Peter’s Cemetery, Bournemouth.

To support herself and her child, Mary wrote novels, including Valperga (1823), The Last Man (1826), and the autobiographical Lodore (1835).  She spent much of her life in promoting her late husband’s work, including editing and annotating unpublished material. She returned to England, never to re-marry.

She died on 1st February 1851 in Chester Square, London of what some suspect to be a brain tumor, before her to move to live with her son Percy Florence Shelley at Boscombe Manor. Her last book, sometimes considered her best work, was ‘Maria’, which was published posthumously.  Her son brought his mothers remains to be interred in St. Peter’s Churchyard in Bournemouth, along with Percy’s heart, which was not originally buried with his body. It was retrieved from his funeral pyre by his friend Trelawny and kept by Shelley’s wife Mary, pressed flat, in a copy of the poet’s “Adonais” and was interred for the first time in Mary’s tomb.

Mark North

Happy Feet animator comes to Dorset County Museum

Sofronis Efstathiou, National School of Computer Animation, Bournemouth University

Sofronis Efstathiou, National School of Computer Animation, Bournemouth University

The current exhibition at Dorset County Museum, Pardoes ANIMATE!, has proved to be very popular with summer visitors.  As part of its ongoing animation theme, a professional animator and lecturer at
Bournemouth University’s National Centre for Computer Animation is giving a talk about how Animation can become a viable career.

Sofronis Efstathiou will discuss a variety of student animation projects, explaining the different types of technical and creative skills used in their creation.  He will also emphasise  the importance of art, maths and science in this field and explain how they can directly affect the success of an animated film.  The presentation will be followed by a question and answer session.

Before becoming Programme Leader of the MA course in 3D Computer Animation at Bournemouth University, Sofronis worked in the Film and Games industry on projects such as “Happy Feet”, “300” and “Fable 2”, training artists and production staff on projects that would go on to win an Oscar, a BAFTA and a Games BAFTA.

Sofronis Efstathiou talk takes place on Thursday 12th September 2013 at 6.00pm. Entry to this lecture is FREE

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 262735 or check the website on

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Bonny Sartin returns to Dorset County Museum

Bonny Sartin

Bonny Sartin

Bonny Sartin, member of the folk group, The Yetties, and a great favourite with local audiences, returns to Dorset County Museum on 4th September this year.

One of Bonny’s ancestors, Edmund Sartin, took his family from Corscombe to New Zealand in 1840. They were on the very first ship to go to the wild and desolate area of Taranaki in North Island.

This is a story of poverty, pestilence, con men, war, and gold fever.  Bonny presents it in his characteristic style with plenty of rousing music and song.  This is sure to be a popular event so tickets should be booked in good time.  The ticket price of £9.00 includes a glass of wine or cider and a piece of homemade Dorset apple cake.

Tickets available now from the Museum Shop on 01305 756827 or by emailing

Bonny Sartin’s talk takes place on Wednesday 4th September at 7.30pm.  Doors open at 7.00pm.

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J-STOR Now Available in the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society Library

JSTORResearch minded members of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society will doubtless be pleased to learn that JSTOR, a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary sources ,is now available on a dedicated terminal in the Society’s Library at Dorset County Museum. This was trialled for a short period earlier this year, the feedback from which encouraged the Society to take out a full subscription.

JSTOR provides searchable access to the digitised full text content of over 1,900 journals in more than 50 disciplines, provided by more than 900 publishers and greatly expands the range of research publications and source material available at the Museum.

With such a world of resources now accessible at the click of a mouse, why not drop into the Library soon and see what you can discover…

  • If you would like to take advantage of this amazing resource why not become a member of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society.  For more information visit

Tripadvisor Accolade for Dorset County Museum

Certificate of Excellence 2013 Winner

The Dorset County Museums Certificate of Excellence 2013

All of us at Dorset County Museum were delighted to receive the news recently that we have won a tripadvisor ‘Certificate of Excellence 2013’.

Awarded by the tripadvisor website on the basis of the number, quality and consistency of reviews posted by the general public, it is only given to organisations in the top 10% for positive visitor feedback worldwide.

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Lecture: Thomas Hardy and Architecture A talk by Samantha Briggs

Thomas Hardy's Max Gate, Dorchester, Dorset

Thomas Hardy’s Max Gate, Dorchester, Dorset

Thomas Hardy is the only major English novelist to have also been a professional architect.  This lecture will provide an overview on Hardy’s architectural career and show how he engaged with nineteenth century debates about the built environment in his fiction.

This is the third in a series of five lectures about Thomas Hardy and is part of a larger project including the National Trust and the University of Exeter. It is hoped that the more academic nature of these lectures will provide the general public and lovers of Hardy’s novels with an increased connection to contemporary ideas about his work.

Entry to the talk is FREE but a donation of £3.00 is encouraged to cover costs. Everyone is welcome and there is no need to book.  Doors open at 7.00pm.

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 262735 or check the website on

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Fantastic Creatures at Dorset County Museum: Ray Harryhausen talk and film screening by Tony Dalton

Tony Dalton, Curator of The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

Tony Dalton, Curator of The Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation

An exciting talk at Dorset County Museum forms part of the current Pardoes ANIMATE! exhibition.

‘The Art of Ray Harryhausen’, by Tony Dalton, Curator of The Ray & Diana Harryhausen Foundation and film historian, will illustrate Ray’s creation of unique fantastic creatures and his unequalled style of model animation with images from his career.  Beginning with a young Ray watching the 1933 King Kong in Hollywood, he was so inspired by the film he decided to try to recreate it and bring his own incredible creatures to ‘life’.  Over the years his films included such fantasy classics as Mighty Joe Young (1949), The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1952), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), One Million Years B.C. (1966), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and Clash of the Titans (1981).

This talk takes place on Wednesday 28th August at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £5.00 for adults and £2.50 for children (aged 0-16) and are available from the Museum Shop on 01305 756827 or by emailing

A selection of Ray Harryhausen books available from the museum shop

A selection of Ray Harryhausen books available from the museum shop

There will be a book signing afterwards of Ray and Tony’s books, in particular, Ray Harryhausen: A life in Pictures which is available in the Museum shop.

Doors open at 7.00pm providing an opportunity to see the exhibition before the talk.



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UNESCO recognition for Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy by Hubert Herkomer

Thomas Hardy by Hubert Herkomer

The Thomas Hardy Archive and Collection has recently been awarded inscription on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) ‘Memory of the World’ Register of Documentary Heritage. Awarded.

This prestigious status alongside such collections as the Churchill Archive and the Domesday Book, UNESCO’s Memory of the World programme works to celebrate and preserve documentary heritage and to improve awareness of the information that these collections contain. David Dawson, who is Chairman of the UK Memory of the World Committee, said the significance of Hardy’s works and the picture he was able to capture of his time and place meant the archive was fully deserving of its place on the register:

“It really is that picture of the late 19th Century and the way that life was changing. Hardy was talking primarily about Dorset but he also captured the spirit of change coming across Britain and had such an impact on literary works both nationally and internationally. It is for that reason it was such a privilege to be able to inscribe these archives on the UNESCO register.”

UNESCO The Thomas Hardy Archive and Collection

Helen Gibson and Jon Murden receiving the UNESCO Memory of the World inscription certificate from David Dawson, Chairman of the UK UNESCO Committee, at a special ceremony in Tamworth on Tuesday 9th July.

Recent donations to the Hardy Collection include two paintings, one by Hardy’s sister Mary, which is a portrait of their brother, Henry, and a small watercolour of ‘Egdon Heath’ by Emma Hardy. These have been generously given by relatives of the Hardy family. Professor Barrie Bullen, whose book launch was in the museum, has donated a copy of Thomas Hardy: the World of his Novels. We are grateful for these important additions to the collection. A talk about Tess of the d’Urbervilles and a detailed tour of the Hardy Gallery was requested for forty members of NADFAS who visited the museum from Romsey. Jennifer Young conducted the tours and Helen Gibson showed The Graphic of 1891 illustrated serialisation and other related items, including first editions and early stage dramatisations. Research continues to be undertaken by visiting scholars on subjects as diverse as natural history, music and dramatisations, cataloguing schemes of Hardy’s books, and the annotations and marginalia in his own hand.

Helen Gibson

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