Mary Shelley may have written the book Frankenstein, but it was her stepsister Claire Clairmont who spent her lifetime battling horrible monsters.
1. She Was The Glue
Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, and Percy Shelley all went down in history as great writers—but it was the lesser-known Claire Clairmont who was the glue that held them all together. This quartet of authors was into travel, horror stories and free love, which led to constant bed-hopping—and serious melodrama. Sadly, Clairmont always seemed to always get the short end of the stick.
She would, however, eventually get her revenge from beyond the grave.
2. She Didn’t Know Him
Claire Clairmont, born in 1798 in Brislington, England, had a childhood like a Gothic novel. She knew who her mother was—but what she didn’t know for sure was the identity of her father. Mom said it was a guy called Charles Clairmont, but the man was like a ghost who never appeared.
When mom got pregnant again, Clairmont must’ve assumed the ghost had eerily returned. There was no ghost—but instead, a man who’d change Clairmont’s life in a very big way.
3. She Had A New Dad
Clairmont’s mom was single and dealing with two children, and had another on the way. This time the dad was no mystery. It was writer William Godwin, who actually lived right next door. But he came with baggage. He had a daughther of his own when he married Clairmont’s mother. There were now four children in this unorthodox household, and not a single one of them had the same two parents.
Clairmont got a stepsister in the deal who was about the same age. She’d either just met her best friend—or her worst enemy.
4. She Was The Favorite
Clairmont’s mom didn’t hide the fact that she preferred her own daughter to her stepchildren. In fact, she sent Clairmont to a fancy boarding school while her stepdaughter, Mary Godwin, just got her education home. This sounds like a recipe for a nasty sibling rivalry—but nope, it was a friendship that would last for decades.
It would also, however, inspire a whole lotta drama.
5. She Learned Strange Things
Claire Clairmont now had a step sister that was also her own best friend, and the household they were growing up in was full of books and intellectual discussion. Dad was an anarchist and also spoke out about an idea called “free love”. He thought that women should be able to choose who they went to bed with. Imagine!
The idea of “free love” likely meant nothing to Clairmont as a child. She would, however, soon be a young woman and her father’s idea would get her into big trouble.
6. She Was Under Pressure
The Godwin household was generally a nice place to live, but there were two things undermining it. William Godwin was a very unconventional father, and he was deeply in debt. As Claire and Mary got older, stories about their unorthodox upbringing started getting around. In fact, they were starting to attract other people who were also freethinkers.
One night, there was a knock on the door. It was a man who would turn this family’s life upside down forever.
7. He Didn’t Choose Her
Writer Percy Shelley arrived at the door and told Mister Godwin that he was a follower and wanted to talk about free love. Well, what he really wanted to do was meet Godwin’s daughters. Shelley quickly, and secretly, focused his amorous attention on Mary Godwin. She was just a teenager, and Shelley was six years older and, worse still, a married man.
The charismatic Shelley had chosen Mary Godwin over Clairmont, which you’d expect would pit sister against sister. Nope, something completely different happened instead.
8. She Was In The Middle
Clairmont’s stepsister Mary Godwin had fallen in love with the married writer Percy Shelley. Instead of backing off and giving Godwin some space, Clairmont put herself right in the middle of the secret relationship. She helped them with their clandestine meetings and worked hard to keep their parents completely in the dark.
Clairmont was absolutely devoted to her sister. Well, that devotion was about to be put to the ultimate test.
9. She Was A Third Wheel
Godwin and Shelley’s love was growing at a fever pitch, and Clairmont seemed happy just to bask in its glow. The couple, however, was on the verge of being found out, so Shelley decided that he and Godwin should elope. Fine, except Clairmont had grown to love being a third wheel, and she didn’t want to give that up.
Clairmont would do anything to stay with Godwin and Shelley—even something quite ridiculous.
Sign up to our newsletter.
History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.
10. She Followed
Godwin was about to elope with the already married Shelley—and Clairmont came up with a scandalous plan. She told them that she wanted to go with them. It would be a strange honeymoon for three, and all of them knew the parents would be furious. The girls didn’t care. They secretly left the house with Shelley and snuck off to France.
They made it to the continent without a hitch. Little did they know, someone was hot on their trail.
11. She Found Them
Clairmont, Godwin, and Shelley stopped at the first city they came to in France. This was Calais and they found a little inn to spend the night. This was their biggest mistake. When they woke up the next day, there was Clairmont’s mother—as angry as can be. Mom had an ultimatum for them, and it wasn’t exactly what they expected.
12. She Had To Go Back
It wasn’t surprising when Clairmont’s mom angrily told the stepsisters they had to return to England immediately. It was the next bit that left the girls shaking their heads. Mom said that Shelley had to come back with them. What? You’d think that the daughter-snatching Shelley would be the last person the Godwin’s would want back at the house.
Mom was acting strange, and Clairmont wanted an explanation.
13. They Needed Him
As it turned out, there was another reason for mom’s insistence on the trio returning home. It was money. You see, Shelley was rich and had been feeding money into dad’s rather empty pockets. Bringing Shelley back to the Godwin household would solve their financial woes. Godwin and Shelley flatly said they would not return.
Clairmont had a decision to make. Return to the safety of her home—or live an uncertain life on the road with a possible scoundrel.
14. It Was Disturbing
Claire Clairmont chose uncertainty, and was soon embarking on a trip through France with Godwin and Shelley. If you’re imagining delicious croissants and jaunty berets, think again. France had just gone through a bloody war, which had devastated the countryside. The scenery was beyond bleak and the residents were shell shocked.
Quite disturbed by France, the trio decided to give Switzerland a try. Once they crossed the border, they met with a completely different kind of problem.
15. There Was Distressing News
Yes, France had been a depressing time, but in Switzerland a more fundamental problem arose. They were out of money. Their solution was to leave Switzerland and travel to the more economical Holland. Once there, Godwin shared distressing news with Clairmont.
She was pregnant. With a shortage of cash, and a baby on the way, the sisters saw only one choice, and it was going to be very humiliating.
16. She Begged
Clairmont, Godwin and Percy went back to England with their tails between their legs. They approached the Godwin home to beg their father for financial help. To the girls’ shock, dad wanted nothing to do with his rebellious daughters and sent them packing. Shelley scrambled to find a place for them all to stay, but it was going to be a tight squeeze.
Three young passionate people living in a small space could only lead to one thing—romantic entanglement.
17. She Wanted To Share
Once in their tiny home, things got complicated. Claire Clairmont started having romantic feelings for her stepsister’s boyfriend. The thing was, Shelley—like Mary’s father—was into “free love,” and Clairmont was starting to see the perks of it too. It was slowly dawning on Clairmont that there was no reason why she couldn’t share Shelley with her stepsister.
Clearly, Clairmont was willing to live life on the edge. Her horrors, however, were just beginning.
18. She Had A Fit
At this time, Claire Clairmont was getting more and more into literature, and it was affecting her in bizarre ways. While she was reading Shakespeare’s King Lear, she became distraught about the fate of one of the characters. Clairmont’s emotions about the play were so intense that she had a very scary and uncontrollable fit—which she later called her “horrors”.
Yes, literature was horrifying, but Clairmont's real life situation was heading into dangerous waters.
19. She Betrayed Her
Clairmont’s feelings for Shelley were growing, and Godwin likely knew that something romantic was going on between them. Their friends even had a cruel nickname for them. They called them “Shelley and his two wives”. I'd guess Clairmont was in agony over betraying her sister. Surely someone was going to get their feelings hurt. The big question was whether it would be Clairmont, or Godwin.
20. She Wanted A Throuple
It seems that Clairmont had more in common with Percy Shelley than her stepsister. After all, they both believed in the idea of free love. Clairmont was happy to continue on as some kind of “throuple,” but Godwin was not at all onboard with it. Add this to Godwin’s pregnancy, and you’ve got a very tense household.
All Godwin wanted was a safe delivery. Sadly, that was not in the cards.
21. She Was Left Out
On February 22, 1815, Mary Godwin gave birth to a baby girl. Sadly, she was two months premature, and not in good health. The consequences were brutal. Clairmont watched helplessly as her stepsister lost her first baby. Distraught over the loss, Godwin turned to Shelley for support. Clairmont felt left out in the cold, and decided to start her own romance.
This decision would later come to haunt her in a very disturbing way.
22. She Had An Ulterior Motive
Lord Byron was the director of Drury Lane Theater, and quite a fetching celebrity—imagine a Romance-era Harry Styles. 18-year-old Claire Clairmont was star-struck by the older Byron, and she began to send him letters asking for advice on her career. It could be that the sneaky teenager had an ulterior motive. Byron was hot stuff, and Clairmont wanted a piece of the action.
The two eventually decided to meet. Little did Clairmont know, she was about to come face to face with a real life monster.
23. She Was Embarrassing
After her first meeting with Byron, Clairmont didn’t hold back in letting him know exactly how she felt—and in the most embarrassing way. She wrote that she could barely speak in his presence and that she just wanted “to take a little stool” and sit at his feet. So much for playing it cool. Most men would have run screaming the other way.
But Byron…well…Byron had his own issues.
24. He Had A Bad Rep
As Claire Clairmont was sending Lord Byron letters proclaiming her love, he was in distress. His marriage had recently broken up, and it was for a scandalous reason. His wife, Annabella Milbanke, had a suspicion that Byron was cheating on her. It wasn’t, however, with another woman but with other men—plural.
This was just the tip of the iceberg. There was something more, and it was much, much worse for Byron’s reputation.
25. She Liked Bad Boys
Besides the men, Byron was having another affair—and this one was even more scandalous. Rumor had it that he was sleeping with his half-sister. When this news got out, Byron began drinking heavily. He also started selling off his possessions, so he could leave England and this scandal behind forever.
Anyone could see that Byron was bad news. Anyone except a star-struck teenager who thought she was in love. Clearly, Clairmont was in way over her head.
26. She Had One Hot Night
Claire Clairmont did eventually spend one hot night in bed with Lord Byron, but it was just before he left England. As he said his farewells, Byron was very honest with Clairmont. He told her that this would never be a relationship. Clairmont waved goodbye to her lover, but she also made a firm resolution. No matter what it took, she would see Lord Byron again.
27. She’d Be All Alone
Clairmont was distraught over losing Byron. To make matters worse, Godwin and Shelley were about to leave her and go on a trip to Italy. She could go with them and resume her role as the third wheel, or she could stay home and mope about Byron. Neither option seemed particularly tempting, so she came up with a third idea.
She proposed that Godwin and Percy cancel Italy and go with her to find Byron wherever he was. Instead of telling Clairmont just how crazy her idea was, they jumped on board.
28. She Had A Secret
Claire Clairmont found out that Byron was heading to Switzerland, so she, Godwin and Shelley did the same. While on the journey, something became very abundantly clear. Clairmont was pregnant with Byron’s baby. Clairmont could only imagine Byron’s reaction to having a child with a teenage girl he thought he’d said goodbye to forever.
It was going to be an explosive arrival in Switzerland.
29. They Waited In Ambush
The trio of travelers got to Switzerland, only to find that Byron wasn’t there yet. Their presence was going to be a huge surprise and, to make it even worse, they rented a house right next to Byron’s villa. So, Byron would arrive at his house and see the woman he hoped he’d never see again. Oh, and she’d be pregnant with his baby.
I can’t see any scenario where this ends well.
30. He Kept Her Away
When Lord Byron arrived in Switzerland and took a look at a pregnant Claire Clairmont, it pushed him over the edge. He did eventually calm down and when he did he accepted the three of them as neighbors and friends. He had, however, a special and cold-hearted rule for Clairmont. While they were in the house, he would never be alone with her.
Don’t worry about Clairmont. A phenomenon halfway around the world was about to help her get back into Byron’s bed.
31. The Lights Went Out
Halfway across the world, Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted. The immediate casualty count was over 10,000 people. The effects, however, were far from over. The ash from this volcano was so intense that people around the world thought the sun was dying. Over in Switzerland, this meant that Clairmont, Godwin, Percy, and Byron had to spend a lot of time together indoors—with disastrous consequences.
32. It Was A Horror Show
Claire Clairmont and her friends spent most of that summer hiding from the ash in the darkness indoors. The environment they found themselves in was positively eerie, and all the closeness meant constantly bumping up against each other.
Let’s see, there were four creative and emotional minds, lithe bodies, a ghostly villa and a summer of dark and stormy nights. Let the horror show begin.
33. They Looked For Terror
The spine-chilling atmosphere encouraged the quartet of writers to delve into dark subjects. They started by telling each other ghost stories they knew. Then, they decided that each should write one extra horrible story. They each went off into their own dark corner and only emerged when they had penned a really terrifying story. Mary’s turned into a celebrated novel, Frankenstein.
What Clairmont, Byron, and Shelley got up to was a lot less productive.
34. She Was Haunted
Even though Claire Clairmont was pregnant, it didn’t stop Byron and Shelley from terrorizing her. One night, Shelley simply stared at her with such a haunting face she screamed and threatened to take his eyes out. They rushed her to her bed, where she had another one of her terrifying “horrors”.
Clairmont was jumping at things that went bump in the night, but her real life was about to get much scarier than some imaginary ghost.
35. Her Life Was A Horror
Clairmont was single and pregnant, and the father was a scoundrel who had no interest in her or her baby. Not only that, Clairmont had noticed that Byron and Shelley had gotten very close, very quickly. Clairmont took stock of the situation. Her sister was busy writing a novel, and the two men she loved were suspiciously spending a lot of time behind closed doors together.
One thing was clear: Clairmont was very much on her own and she was going to need to get out this horrific entanglement before it killed her.
36. She Had To Hide
Eventually, it was actually Shelley who stepped up regarding Clairmont’s pregnancy. He knew Byron wouldn’t do anything to help, so he packed up Clairmont and Godwin and took them back to England. The number one thing on their minds was keeping Clairmont's pregnancy a secret. Shelley found Clairmont a place to live in Bath, and the plan was for her to wait out her pregnancy there.
Clairmont’s life was now on pause—but the tragedies kept rolling in.
37. It Was A Double Disaster
While waiting to have her baby, two disasters happened in quick succession. Clairmont’s other stepsister Fanny Imlay tragically took her own life with a vial of opium on October 10, 1816. She left a letter saying she’d been depressed. Two months later, it was Percy Shelley’s wife’s turn.
She walked into a lake in London’s Hyde Park. As Clairmont’s due date drew near, these tragedies seemed like sinister omens. A terrified Clairmont took out some paper and wrote a letter. It was her only hope.
38. She Was Unhinged
Clairmont started writing to Byron in an effort to get him to step up as the father of her baby. In the letters, however, Clairmont came off as unhinged. She’d make jokes and then she’d suddenly get all romantic. To round off the letter, she threatened to end her life. To no one’s surprise, Byron completely ignored her.
Around the same time, Godwin and Shelley finally decided to become husband and wife. That was all Clairmont needed. It was now written in stone. She was going to have to raise her baby all alone.
39. She Desperately Wanted Help
On January 13, 1817, Claire Clairmont gave birth to a baby girl who she named Allegra. The joys of childbirth didn’t last, as she was well aware of her dangerous situation. She quickly went to Godwin and Percy with a last ditch attempt to save herself. She’d found out that Byron was now in Italy, and thought a second ambush was in order. She’d show him Allegra, and he’d step up and be a good father.
Anyone could see this was a terrible idea, but this group of people seemed to love bad ideas. The chase was on.
40. He Was Cold-Hearted
Clairmont, baby Allegra, and the Shelleys all made their way down to Italy. They found Byron in Venice, but his reaction was cruel. He slammed the door in their faces. He did, however, send a message. He said he would gladly take little Allegra, but only on one cold-hearted condition. Clairmont could not have any contact with him at all.
Byron would probably make a horrible father, but he did have money. It was a heartbreaking decision for a new mom to make.
41. She Had Her Own Condition
With great reluctance, Claire Clairmont agreed to hand Allegra over to Byron—but she had a demand of her own. The girl must always be with either her or Byron. It didn’t, however, take long for Byron to break that promise. He heartlessly sent Allegra to a convent, where she would be in the hands of people that Clairmont didn’t know and, more importantly, didn’t trust.
Suddenly, Clairmont was desperate to get her daughter back—and she had a dangerous plan to do it.
42. She Needed One Favor
Clairmont’s plan was to get into the convent and secretly snatch her daughter and keep her for herself. To get into the convent, she’d get Percy Shelley to sign Byron’s name on a letter that stated she could visit her daughter. No matter how much she begged and pleaded, Shelley—because of his friendship with Byron—refused to sign the letter.
While Clairmont was working on her plan B, the worst thing imaginable happened.
43. She Made A Vow
Claire Clairmont had never trusted the care Allegra was getting at the convent. Sadly, she ended up being proven correct. When her daughter was five years old, she came down with a fever. We don’t know how well the nuns handled Allegra’s illness, but we do know that the child died while in their care. Clairmont was inconsolable and vowed to never, ever forgive Byron.
If this wasn’t enough, there was even more bad news on the way.
44. She Lost Another
Clairmont had lost her only child and had even stopped writing because of her extreme sorrow. It was in this state that she received more terrible news. Percy Shelley, who perhaps was her first romantic love, had been in a terrible accident. He’d been on his boat during a storm, and it had overturned. His lifeless body washed ashore ten days later.
Clairmont felt absolutely alone. It was time to take matters into her own hands.
45. She Needed A Change
Claire Clairmont had always counted on her sister’s husband Percy Shelley as her protector, and now that shield had vanished completely. What she needed was a 180-degree change to forget her tragic life—and that’s exactly what she did. She ended up in Russia working as a governess.
While living in this foreign land, she could properly mourn the passing of Allegra and Shelley…and continue her hatred for Byron. As it turned out, she wouldn’t have to hate him for much longer.
46. She Was Finally Free
While Claire Clairmont was taking care of Russian children, Byron was preparing to fight battles in Greece. He was also chasing around a teenage Greek boy he’d fallen in love with. Before Byron had a chance to actually see much military action, he very undramatically caught a cold and died. Clairmont was finally free of her monster.
She wasn’t, however, free of his legacy.
47. She Lost It
While she was in Russia, two men professed their love for her, but Clairmont showed no interest. Her stormy relationship with Byron had taken a devastating toll. Sadly, she’d grown tired of falling in love. The Russian suitors said she had nothing but contempt for men. Can you blame her?
If she had such wretched memories of Byron the monster, at least she had fond memories of Shelley. Well, new evidence says things may not have been so copacetic.
48. She Was A Voice From The Grave
Claire Clairmont passed in Italy at the ripe old age of 80. Over a hundred years later, in 2010, a scholar named Daisy Hay stumbled upon something quite shocking in the New York Public Library. It was part of a once lost memoir written by Clairmont when she was in her 70s. It’s no surprise that Clairmont was unkind to Byron in her memoir.
In fact, she called him “a human tyger [sic]...inflicting pain on defenseless women”. What shocked scholars was what she wrote about Shelley.
49. She Called Them What They Were
Historians had always felt that there had been something tender, maybe even romantic, between Percy Shelley and Claire Clairmont. In her memoir, however, she lumps Shelley in the same boat as Byron and calls them both "monsters of lying, meanness, cruelty and treachery". Okay, not fond memories after all.
As it turns out, Clairmont had a huge reason for hating Shelley, and it’s full of deja vu.
50. It Happened Twice
We already know that Clairmont lost the baby she had with Byron. Well, in 1818, Percy Shelley secretly brought another baby to a Naples orphanage—and seemed vague about who the mother was. His servants later claimed that the baby was a product of a hot night between Clairmont and Shelley. Worse still, this child also lived a short life—just a year and a half.
Tragically, Shelley had done the same thing Byron had. If the rumors were true, it’s very clear why Clairmont held a grudge against Byron and Shelley—they were her real life monsters.