Mary Shelley: A Pluto-Dominated Literary Life

Mary Shelley: A Pluto-Dominated Literary Life

By: Chrisine Ferraro

My article revolves around the position of Pluto in Mary Shelley’s chart and its powerful impact on the events in her life and her works – Chrisine Ferraro

Born of philosopher and political writer William Godwin and famed feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (author of The Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792), Mary Shelley’s early environment provided fertile ground for the growth of her intellectual and literary tendencies. The loss of her mother when she was only 11 days old was the first of many indicators that crisis, transformation, and revolution were going to be a major theme in her life.

Pluto’s placement at the apex of her chart, in electric Aquarius, indicates a hard-wiring of sorts, as if she were a lightning rod giving off and attracting powerful forces in her life. And its opposition to Mars in Virgo (conjunct her Sun and Uranus in the 4th house, anchoring the theme of reform to the foundation of her life) describes one with an indomitable will, doing battle with forces beyond her control. Her father described her at fifteen as “singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire of knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes almost invincible.”

The preponderance of mutable (and thus mentally-oriented) placements in her chart, including the Nodes, speaks to her “literary life,” based on intellectual exploration, a passion for ideas and their impact on society, and an intense drive to creatively express those ideas through the written word. The Moon in Sagittarius, as the out-of-bounds (and thus intensified) Ascendant ruler, is highlighted and especially significant, as it describes her thirst for knowledge, her priority need to explore the world of ideas, as well as a restless, adventurous drive to experience life. Its tense square to Mercury in its own sign of Virgo seems to have applied the thumbscrews to her intellect, driving her to not only seek out intellectual stimulation, but also to articulate in literary form that which arose from her emotional experiences and her subconscious.

She was attracted to novel, progressive, and revolutionary streams of thought and immersed herself in the company of those of like mind. There is a theme of lawlessness, rebellion, and unconventionality repeated throughout her life, for which there is ample support in the chart. Pluto at the Aquarius MC overseeing all, receives aspects from the Moon in Sagittarius (sextile), Mercury in Virgo (quincunx), Mars and Sun in Virgo (opposition), and Jupiter in Aries (septile).

She flaunted the conventionalities of traditional married life (Mars, Sun, Uranus conjunction in Virgo in the 4th, sextile Saturn on the one side in the 1st and Neptune in Scorpio on the other in the 5th) by entering into an unorthodox and illicit affair with Percy Bysshe Shelley, one of her father’s political followers. She believed in the non-exclusivity of marriage and “free love.” For many years, the couple lived a nomad-like bohemian existence (oftentimes pursued by creditors), shared with many of their intellectual circle.

The litany of losses and crises in Mary’s life seems to be a testimony to a life chosen for lessons in the limits of personal power, endurance, release, rebirth, and relinquishment, as well as for rising to the status of immortality through her work.

Out of the five pregnancies and births that Mary experienced, only one child, a boy, survived to adulthood. Her losses of her children (at one point she nearly died from blood loss due to a miscarriage) induced acute periods of debilitating depression from which she escaped through her writing. During these times, however, she often became emotionally and physically inaccessible to her husband. The Mercury-Pluto quincunx in her chart (which, by the way, she inherited from her mother) is emblematic of the solace she sought in her writing and could, perhaps, be descriptive of her need to isolate herself in order to work through her grief.

Suicide, another extreme Plutonian ideation, was no stranger to her either. Both Percy’s wife and Mary’s stepsister committed suicide in 1816, and although Mary may not have known it, her mother had made at least two attempts herself.

Ultimately, one of her greatest and most traumatic losses was the accidental drowning death of her husband in July of 1822 when, after encountering bad weather, his sailing boat never reached its destination.

Pluto’s association with fame attracted those whose names would be long remembered for their works: Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Aaron Burr, and of course, Percy Shelley, whose fame is due in no small part to Mary’s determination to share his genius with the world after his death. Mary’s absorption with the ideas of power, transformation, political change, as well as an intense drive to reform, attest once again to Pluto’s influence in her life and her work.

Many of her novels were driven by Plutonian themes: Mathilda was narrated from a deathbed, dealt with issues of incest and suicide, and was written during a grief-stricken period in which she lost two of her children.

In Valperga, the heroine is named Euthanasia and chooses political liberty and dies because of that choice. Last Man is an apocalyptic science fiction novel, where everyone dies but one man who is left in tragic isolation, and Ladore deals with ideological issues, especially education and the social roles of women and the pressure for them to be dependent on men.

Many of her quotes reveal her intense, Plutonian turn of mind:

Every political good carried to the extreme must be productive of evil.

Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.

The agony of my feelings allowed me no respite; no incident occurred from which my rage and misery could not extract its food.

I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.

And last but certainly not least, the novel for which she will most likely never be forgotten, her legacy: Frankenstein, or a Modern Prometheus.

The seed idea for the novel, published when she was only 20 years of age, was planted when, in May 1816, she, Percy Shelley, and their son travelled to Geneva. Among other subjects discussed in the company of Lord Byron and others, the conversation turned to the experiments of the 18th-century natural philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin, who was said to have animated dead matter, and to the feasibility of returning a corpse or assembled body parts to life. Sitting around a log fire at Byron’s villa, the company also amused themselves by reading German ghost stories, prompting Byron to suggest they each write their own supernatural tale. Shortly afterwards, in a waking dream, Mary Godwin conceived the idea for Frankenstein.

Pluto, with its dominion over death and regeneration, in Aquarius, the sign associated with science, seems to provide the quintessential signature for Shelley’s legacy. The association in the title with Prometheus further brings home the themes of betrayal, power, and regeneration, as well as the ideals of intellectual and scientific advancement for which Prometheus gave up so much.

On another, deeper level, one could say that we are called to look at our shadow side when we encounter Frankenstein’s monster, where an obsession can go beyond reason into the world of madness and terror. Mary Shelley fearlessly brought the darkness to life and light and dared us to venture in.

Brief bio:
Christine Ferraro ( began her astrological studies in the 1970s, a time when she also began the journey of exploring the deeper, more spiritual side of life. Her focus in her work with her clients is on the development of understanding and self-awareness, thus empowering them to make more insightful and informed decisions and to move toward living a more conscious life. Christine writes, is on the faculty at the International Academy of Astrology, and also on the Board of the Organization for Professional Astrology. She lives in Churchville, PA, with her husband, Jules, and their two cats.