The Death of Fanny Godwin in Helen Edmundson’s Mary Shelley

Author: Jessica Zhu, Dulwich College Suzhou, China
Published: November 24, 2023

Citation: Zhu, J. (2023). The Death of Fanny Godwin in Helen Edmundson’s Mary Shelley. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 12(2).


Fanny Godwin, as the daughter of renowned writer and activist Mary Wollstonecraft and stepdaughter of political philosopher William Godwin, has received relatively limited attention from literary scholars compared to the other eminent members of her family. Helen Edmundson’s 2012 play Mary Shelley acknowledges the impacts that Fanny would have had on her half-sister Mary while depicting Mary’s early life. This article is one of the first in-depth textual analyses of the play and examines Edmundson’s portrayal of Fanny in the Godwin household. In particular, the article investigates the extent to which Edmundson renders familial relationships as the root cause of Fanny’s suicide, scrutinising the relationships which Godwin and Mary have with Fanny alongside the influence of outside pressures. Drawing on psychoanalytic and family-systems psychotherapy approaches, the article contends that Edmundson places specific emphasis on dynamics within the Godwin family in contributing to Fanny’s death, arguably more so than the few literary biographies that have explored this tragedy. To enrich the discussion, the researcher conducted a personal interview with Helen Edmundson, facilitating a comparison between reader interpretations with the playwright’s intentions. Ultimately, this article contributes to a deeper understanding of the Godwin family and their profound impacts on Fanny’s life and death.


Fanny Godwin, Mary Shelley, William Godwin, Helen Edmundson, historical drama, psychoanalysis