It was a brain tumor that killed her.
Throughout 1850 she had not been able to do much—a few short visits here and there. One of her last social events was a dinner with Thomas Love Peacock, who’d first met and befriended Bysshe in 1812 (when Mary was about fifteen).
But Mary was suffering from headaches—weakness. And everyone knew. In January 1851, her girlhood friend Isabel Baxter Booth arrived at Mary’s home on 24 Chester Square to help care for Mary. But it was all palliative care at this point.
On January 23 Mary lapsed into a coma. And on February 1, she died. She was fifty-three years old.
Her death certificate said it was a supposed tumour in the left cerebral hemisphere of long standing.
In “Mary Shelley’s Death,” an Appendix to her masterful, three-volume collection (The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley), the superb scholar Betty Bennett adds this information: The symptoms and duration of her illness suggest that she may have died of meningioma, a tumor in the covering of the brain that can spread into the brain itself. Bennett notes that the disease is three times more prevalent in women than in men.
And so another of life’s horrible ironies: the destruction of the mind in an intellectual, a writer, a woman who lived by reading, thinking, writing, imagining. Why, such a fate seems almost fitting for the plot of a novel …